Friday, June 29, 2012

The Book Around My Neck

I’m ashamed of my reading prowess nowadays. It took me nearly 2 months to finish Chimmy’s “This Thing Around Your Neck’. Its no reflection on the book please. Just me trying to find time for reading amongst life's other engagements. Leisure time is fast becoming a scarce commodity for me :(

So what did I think of the book? 
Hmmm, it was both familiar yet exotic/strange. Soothes yet haunts, Challenges yet stereotypes. They were stories extraordinary in their ordinariness.
You might have heard one or two of them as what happened to ‘that Ada, don’t you remember her? Emeka’ s uncle’s wife’s aunty’s daughter (untangle that); some are thoughts you have had as an immigrant observing the western society, yet some were about nothing you have ever heard of.

The title story ‘The Thing Around Your Neck was the most enigmatic (translate- I didn’t get it or maybe in a way I-got-it-but-It-was-kinda-bleak). I felt no joy in the main character staying on in America. None in her decision to return to Nigeria. Her identity was a burden to her. Guess the title is apt.

My favourite was the 1st story Cell One about a middle class family and their wayward only son Nnamabia. It may not hold as much poignancy to readers who are not Igbo or grew up in Owerri, Enugu but it’s descriptions and atmosphere were on point. To me, it captured a typical middle class Igbo family perfectly, the pampered first son who can do no wrong in his mother’s eyes, the nelected all knowing daughter, the love between the parents (the routine and familiarity of love after 20 years in marriage), the pretence that all is well amongst family friends (the elephant in the room type).
I sighed, I smiled, I shuffled on the bus seat with nervousness as I read about his incarceration and I cried with relief that he survived Cell One.

Ghosts, a most tender love story about an old professor and his late wife’s nocturnal visits came a close second. It was also a story about University politicking and the Biafra war. My yearning to know more about the war has been whetted. I thought it was bad, but now I know it was atrocious. Relatable to the genocide of the Jews. Of the Hutus and Tutus. I wondered again why Nigerian History is soo silent about the war?
Like someone said or was it Chimmy, it’s like "there is a conspiracy" to keep hidden what happened during Biafra. Why I wonder?? If we don’t know, don’t remember, how can we prevent History from repeating itself? How can we heal?
The movement for the sovereign state of Biafra is signing up young Igbo men and filling them with stories about the glory of Biafra land and the need for secession. I am leery about a Biafra land but even more scared of what info these young men are being fed through Radio Biafra etc (I know people who listen to it dutifully here in the UK- serious matter!!). 
I have listened to radio Biafra and  mostly I feel the leaders are only propagating bitterness drank from their mother’s breast. I understand. Ndi Igbo are yet to heal.

I digress.

A Private Experience touched on the ethnic/religious clashes killings in the North and its effect on the life of two innocent female bystanders with widely differing backgrounds but now touched by same tragedy.
I found ‘On Monday of Last Week hilarious. It touched on same sex attraction in a very light and humorous way.

Some stories felt like Chimmy’s personal experiences. E.g Jumping Monkey Hill about a writers meet, The Shivering. Even Cell One.
The Shivering... It was not my favourite but in retrospect it stood out. Ukamaka's male neighbour Chinedu was portrayed as a prayerful Christian, quiet, kind, and nursing a broken heart like the protagonist. Only difference, his lover was a fellow man. Chimamanda cunningly challenged traditional anti-gay views by simply highlighting all that made this guy human first and foremost, his relationship did not make him less.

Her pro-feminist views(Chimmy calls herself a Happy Feminist! Lol) shone through in her female protagonists who were mostly strong proud women – The Headstrong Historian, Tomorrow is Too Far, Imitation, American Embassy, The Arrangers of Marriage, Jumping Monkey Hill, The Thing Around Your Neck. These were women who used their agency and didn’t let patriarchy dictate to them.

But mostly the stories were about love, filial love, 30 yr old marital love, young love, where it was present, where it was lacking and the way Nigerians express it.

I truly enjoyed the book and would love to hear your views.
What was your favourite story?

Cause I love sharing, here are links to some of her other short stories published in the New Yorker (here) and the New Statesman (here). Enjoy!!


  1. I read the book about 2 years ago and unfortunately it is a book stamped to my brain like most books.

    I am not really a fan of short stories, I guess that is why I did not like it at first. But it is a good read.

    I have been struggling to finish a book in the last 4months, the book is interesting but I am just not connected to it.

  2. i read it about 2 years or so ago as well. I love short stories so it was right up my alley. I think i read the whole thing in 1 or 2 sittings.

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  5. Okay, I need to get this book asap

  6. I read it two years ago also. I did not like the fact every single story did not climax. But she writes well

  7. Now you have me seriously thinking I should re-read the book.

  8. My best was The headstrong historian, and ghosts. Some of the stories ended too abruptly for me, so I couldn't really feel or get into the characters. But generally a good read.

  9. Ginger, where is my comment? You deleted it????

  10. Is this written in English, Ginger? I'd love to read it!

  11. Chimamanda is a fantastic author, no doubt.
    Have a lovely new month!

  12. I read this almost two years ago and I did a review on it here:

    My favourite of the collection is "CELL ONE". I love the story



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