Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a novelist with a strong voice and a heavy axe to grind. She is unafraid to stand tall and proclaim her concerns about her people: she writes about the Biafran war and how it tears apart the lives of her protagonists in the award-winning “Half of a Yellow Sun”. She puts her pen to paper to talk about the difficulties of surviving in postcolonial Nigeria in “Purple Hibiscus” (her first novel, which leaves no holes barred in portraying a tyrannical family situation and the repercussions of having a violent father). Like Ifemelu in “Americanah”, she too leaves home in her late teens to study in America, but Adichie subsequently chooses to divide her time between the two. And throughout, she is also a staunch supporter of the role women play in today’s society and affirms that, “I think of myself as a story teller, but I would not mind at all if someone were to think of me as a feminist writer”.
This collection of short stories, including “The Thing Around Your Neck”, is a very effective vehicle for passing across a number of messages and reflections on her view of her world as it stands today – fractured, fragmented and extremely fragile, yet also resilient and still strong and above all, I think, conscious of the reality of an ‘it is what it is’ philosophy dealing with the dice thrown down.
She has an unerring eye for observing human nature across the board:
“She found it distracting when he scraped the spoon against his teeth”.
“And he smiled, the eager smile of a person who wanted to be liked”.
“There is nothing left to talk about, Nkem knows; it is done”.
She does not hold back commenting wryly on the excesses of modern society:
“His belly looks different. Rounder and riper. She wonders how girls in their twenties can stand that blatant sign of self-indulgent middle age”.
“ ‘Have you finished your juiced spinach?’ she asked (they had been practising all afternoon for his Read-A-Thon competition)”.
“She had come to understand that American parenting was a juggling of anxieties, and that it came with having too much food”.
And she grapples with the complexities of living in today’s Africa with its tortured past and present:
“I wonder what would have happened if we had won the war back in 1967”.
“Ikenna, I have come to realise, is a man who carries with him the weight of what could have been”.
“She could not complain about not having shoes when the person she was talking to had no legs” ( talking metaphorically).
The use of the medium of short stories really does allow C.N.A. to bring up so many of these issues; consequently as a reader you are less able to form other than snapshot images of the people she writes about and they are possibly less flesh and blood and more symbol of the societies she depicts – but this is probably the whole point of this collection.
Read this fascinating article from The Guardian about the closing lecture she gave in May 2015 at the PEN World Voices Festival, where she comments on the fact that “ ‘To choose to write is to reject silence’ ”, and where she chooses NOT to refer directly to the recent kidnapping of her own father, which she does write about poignantly and with great feeling in the New York Times at the end of last month (thanks for the ‘thumbs-up’, P). This author carries off the admirable task of depicting her society and the people she loves so deeply, but she also now carries the heavy responsibility of knowing this can have a direct impact on her own nearest and dearest. The “reverberating applause” Nicole Lee refers to is more than well deserved, hats off indeed, for this woman is amazing.
Read in April 2015.
Rating : 9/10