An Avid Book Review | The Thing Around Your Neck

I may be late to the game in reading this, but I’m not even mad. Months earlier, I absolutely INDULGED in Adichie’s Americanah, and proceeded on to her next masterpiece. After ordering The Thing Around Your Neck, I was – yet again – immersed, dog-earing every page that made me gasp, giggle, or pause. After each story, I was overwhelmed with reactions and decided, as a book club of one, to document my thoughts by writing a (raving) review. Here’s what I loved about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck:

the_thing_around_your_neck

Vivid Imagery

Chimamanda’s stories are so vivid and clear that it feels like I’m watching a movie. For one, she knows how to flex a sentence; one description coming after the next in fluid, vibrant clauses. That, and her use of imagery often pairs concepts that would ordinarily clash, but nevertheless make sense in context (i.e. “Her dimples sink into her checks, deep enough to swallow half a finger”). As a result, her words leap viscerally off the page and leave deep imprints on my mind. I recall these images way after the fact, even if I forget the words associated with them. With this kind of visual storytelling, I can easily enjoy and escape from the real world, indulging in each scene as it unfolds before my eyes.

“I wash and pray,” the woman says, her voice louder now, and she smiles for the first time to show even-sized teeth, the front ones stained brown. Her dimples sink into her cheeks, deep enough to swallow half a finger, and unusual in a face so lean.

– A Private Experience | pg. 53

Chika looks at the threadbare wrapper on the floor; it is probably one of the two the woman owns. She looks down at her own denim skirt and red T-shirt embossed with a picture of the Statue of Liberty, both of which she bought when she and Nnedi spent a few summer weeks with relatives in New York.

“No, your wrapper will get dirty,” she says.

“Sit,” the woman says. “We are waiting here long time.”

“Do you have an idea how long …?”

“This night or tomorrow morning.”

Chika raises her hand to her forehead, as though checking for a malaria fever. The touch of her cool palm usually calms her, but this time her palm is moist and sweaty. “I left my sister buying groundnuts. I don’t know where she is.”

“She is going safe place.”

“Nnedi.”

“Eh?”

“My sister. Her name is Nnedi.”

“Nnedi,” the woman repeats, and her Hausa accent sheaths the Igbo name in a feathery gentleness.

A Private Experience | pg. 46-7

Sarcastic Bite

A wry yet subtle inner voice runs in and out of The Thing Around Your Neck, usually from the protagonists’ perspectives as they face cultures that clash with their own. These sociocultural or socio-economical commentaries add a refreshing slap of woke-ness to each story; forcing you to look up, side-eye similar situations in your own life, and return to the page, chucking ironically. At least — that’s what I do when reading these semi-shady asides. I love the feeling that I’m sipping tea with Adichie herself, even if it’s a bitter brew.

It amused her, how “cooking dinner” was made to sound like difficult work when it was really a sanitized string of actions: opening cartons and bags and placing things in the oven and microwave. Neil should have seen the kerosene stove she had used back home with its thick gusts of smoke.

– Monday of Last Week | pg. 80

Ujunwa found it odd that the African Writers’ Workshop was held here, at Jumping Monkey Hill. The name itself was incongruous, and the resort had the complacence of the well fed about it, the kind of place where she imagined affluent foreign tourists would dart around taking pictures of lizards and then return home still unaware that there were more black people than red-capped lizards in South Africa.

– Jumping Monkey Hill | pg. 95

Emotional Punch

After distracting your senses with heady streams of imagery and hints of irony, Chimamanda then goes for your gut. With a single line, she drives the real point of the story home, jostling all that lovely detail into context. Adichie often switches tense in these moments, highlighting a memory or future action the main character will take that captures the story’s core sentiment.

In Monday of Last Week, for example, a woman becomes increasingly enraptured by her employer, and it is only later revealed that this crush is more of an escape from her disillusioning marriage. Personally, I didn’t realize this until the protagonist – in the midst of fantasizing about Tracy – recalls her wedding day:

On the day they went to the courthouse to exchange vows in front of an impatient-looking woman, he whistled happily as he knotted his tie and she watched him with a kind of desperate sadness, wanting so much to feel his delight. There were emotions she wanted to hold in the palm of her hand that were simply not there.

– Monday of Last Week | pg. 85

All of a sudden, I felt this empty swoop in my belly; half pity for Kamara’s husband, half commiseration with her apathy toward the relationship. Like. Damn. Who writes like that, to make me feel this kind of way? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, that’s who.

A Private Experience, elicits similar emotions:

She will look at only one of the corpses, naked, stiff, facedown, and it will strike her that she cannot tell if the partially burned man is Igbo or Hausa, Christian or Muslim, from looking at that charred flesh. She will listen to BBC radio and hear the accounts of the deaths and the riots – “religious with undertones of ethnic tension” the voice will say. And she will fling the radio to the wall and a fierce red rage will run through her at how it has all been packaged and sanitized and made to fit into so few words, all those bodies.

– A Private Experience | pg. 54

In Conclusion

Let’s just say, each page of this book was CREASED and dusty with charcoal after I was done with it. I honestly feel like I ran a marathon and have to pace myself for the next one. It will be awhile before I delve into her next novel — not for avoidance; but preparation. It’s rare that you find an author that HITS in your life at the right moment, and Adichie is one of them. Props to you, girl – you deserve all your success.

 

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