The thing around your neck

Published earlier on at


A collection of melancholy instances in the lives of Africans, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The thing around your neck’ is most definitely not a joy-read. Written very succinctly with a short story not longer than 5-6 pages, each story is a tightly packed firecracker of emotions that bursts with a thud in the readers’ mind.

Issues ranging from terrorism, regionalism, rioting, theft, discipline, premarital sex, polygamy and arranged marriages among others, are all treated as cultural influences in the lives of Nigerians (at home and in the States). Immigration is treated very tactfully without shifting the blame on to any side, yet poignantly laying out the emotional trauma that goes through people who choose to leave home.

The title story ‘The thing around your neck’ stands out among all of them for me, though there is a long list of near bests. The two stories that are written in second person narrative (The thing around your neck and Tomorrow is not too far) where Adichie takes the reader through the journey of the protagonist as if he/ she were the person in the story. The story that begins, “You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun” takes you through a young girl’s life in America as if you were her. When that thing around her neck tightens, the reader is most likely to try and loosen it around his/ her neck.

‘The arrangers of marriage’ is one other story that took me by a trip of sorrow just by empathising with the mere helplessness of the girl who married a man her uncle (who brought her up) chose just so she wouldn’t be called ungrateful. ‘The headstrong historian’ is the story of a woman who loses her son to the aspiration for him to learn English and fight for their lost land. ‘A private experience’ is not really one as it is the gory experiences of most Africans who lose property and beloved people to religious fanaticism.

Without fancy lines, without being a tear-jerker, without even trying hard to make the reader sympathise with the characters, this book comes across as a near-real representations of lives in contemporary Africa. The book is filled with professors, policemen, writers, grandmothers, mothers, fathers, uncles, husbands, wives, Igbos, Hausas, Christians, Muslims, who come across as genuine real people you would have seen, met or heard about in your life.

I’d say, it’s a great read. I did surely not cry out loud at the end of each story. But I spend hours of the day thinking about the book and feeling heavy about the unfair distribution of happiness to people.