Friday, August 07, 2009

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The plight of women in contemporary Nigeria is the central concern in twelve stories in The Thing Around Your Neck, a new book from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The situation for many is bleak, as they are restricted by tribal and religious strictures that say whether they can marry for love, choose their friends, have careers, or control their own fertility. One woman's birth name means "father's wealth," referring to the payment he will receive when he "sells" her to a husband. As Adichie shows, it is dangerous to challenge the rules of husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and even grandmothers. Yet, they do and some succeed at great cost.

In The Thing Around Your Neck, Nigeria is a corrupt and violent place, a once-promising country spoiled by military strongmen and bad bankers. In a nod to modernity, many women are allowed educations, but then they are expected to accept subservient roles. In "Jumping Monkey Hill," a promising Nigerian author attending a writers' workshop reads her story about after getting her degree being given a bank job that expected her to sleep with bank clients. In "Tomorrow is Too Far," a grandmother always favors the grandson over a grandaughter, ignoring the latter's talent. In "The Arrangers of Marriage," an orphan is forced to marry a hapless Nigerian medical student doing his residency in the United States. In this and some other stories, Nigerians immigrate to America, but they always take a good bit of the fatherland with them.

These stories could simply be depressing, but Adichie's narration compels readers to continue past every injustice to see which women succeed and which fail. And not every father and husband in these quick reading stories is an enemy. The Thing Around Your Neck will appeal to readers of literary fiction who appreciate psychological insight and advocacy for social reform.

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. The Thing Around Your Neck. Knopf, 2009. ISBN 9780307271075

No comments: