‘All that glitters isn’t gold in America’

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The Thing Around Your Neck
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
ISBN 978-0-00-730621-3
Published by Fourth Estate in Great Britain 2009

CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’s book The Thing Around Your Neck is a collection of short stories which focus on the lives and challenges average Nigerians face in interacting with the world.
These challenges include marriage, peer pressure in tertiary institutions, searching for employment and being in a foreign land.
The pulsating 12 stories by the award-winning author explore issues that connect women and men, parents and children in Africa and the US. The writer explicitly shows the results of a clash of cultures.
Her setting is Nigeria and the US.
The collection is a breath of fresh air — a story from an African who fully appreciates her origins and is not mistaken about her identity.
Far from the typical stereotypical stories of Africa that highlight nothing but poverty and diseases, Adichie highlights the struggle that ensues from the clash between tradition and modernity, aspirations and dreams, the expectations from family and the interaction between couples.
The book strips off illusions — Africa, after all is not the worst of places and America is not the best of places.
The US is no heaven in which Africans find manna.
Adichie tells a story that we never get to hear from the Diaspora; the issue of belonging and acceptance in a foreign land.
Instead of finding glory and streets paved with gold, we find Africans struggling to adapt.
“You thought everybody in America had a car…your uncles and aunts and cousins thought so too. Right after you won the American visa lottery, they told you: In a month, you will have a big car. Soon, a big house…,” opens the story ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’.
The title story centres on Akunna, a young Nigerian girl who leaves home for greener pastures in the US only to find herself being abused by her uncle, running away, looking for a job and ending up having a ‘dirty’ affair in order to stay and get money to send home to her parents.
“Until your uncle came into the cramped basement where you slept with old boxes and cartons and pulled you forcefully to him, squeezing your buttocks, moaning.
“After you pushed him away, he sat on your bed — it was his house, after all — and smiled and said you were no longer a child at 22. If you let him, he would do many things for you. Smart women did it all the time,” writes Adichie.
The story highlights the plight of disadvantaged women in a foreign land.
Women, despite possessing skills and qualities necessary for success, are hampered by many forces that do not regard them as capable individuals who can operate on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
In the US, Akunna gets a culture shock; the ‘openness’ of the Americans is something that she is not accustomed to.
The culture shock fuels depression, suicide, divorce and destroys the family unit, among other things.
Akunna decides to leave the US as a result of her father’ death, which she only gets to know about after five months simply because she was ashamed to get in touch with people back home.
In ‘The Shivering’, the illusions of the grass being greener in the US are stripped off.
A young man, who is gay and in conflict with his culture, finds the going difficult in the US, especially when his visa expires.
“I am out of status. My visa expired three years ago .This apartment belongs to a friend. He is in Peru for a semester and he said I should come and stay while I try to sort myself out.
I’m going to get a deportation notice from Immigration anytime soon. Nobody at home knows my real situation. I haven’t been able to send them much since I lost my construction job,” said Chinedu.
‘The Arrangers of Marriage’ is a story which looks at the issue of arranged marriages.
A young woman, Chinaza, has her aunt arranging that she marries a Nigerian doctor in the US.
“A doctor in America! It is like we won a lottery for you,” says the aunt.
But she gets the shock of her life when her ‘lottery’ turns out to be a nightmare of the worst kind.
When she gets to the US, her husband tells her that to fit in, she has to change her name, language and foods so that she fits in the American society.
“I’m not called Ofodile here, by the way I go by Dave.
The last name I use here is different, too. Americans have a hard time with Udenwa, a name I had known only a few weeks.”
Chinaza’ husband also tells her the truth about his salary and way of life on their flight, something that people at home do not know.
“The arrangers of marriage only told you that doctors made a lot of money in America.
“They did not add that before doctors started to make a lot of money, they had to do an internship and a residency programme, which my new husband had not completed,” said Chinaza.
The issue of marriages of convenience is also highlighted when Chinaza finds out that her husband married an American woman in order to get permanent residency in the US.
“The American woman I married to get a green card is making trouble.
Our divorce was almost final, but not completely, before I married you in Nigeria. Just a minor thing but she found out about it and now she is threatening to report me to Immigration.
She wants more money.”
The collection is a must-read to get a deeper understanding of the Diaspora.

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