Home » General » Ngozi Adichie a Master Storyteller

MY first encounter with award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was through a reference in a book by South African writer Fiona Forde titled An Inconvenient Youth: Julius Malema and the ANC.

In the autobiographical book, Forde highlights the danger of viewing Malema through a narrow aperture of a single story, which generally placed the former ANC youth leader in the mould of a rabble-rouser, ignorant, stupid, rabid racist, a narrative woven into a dark damning tale.

Forde referred to Ngozi Adichie’s experience during her first time in America where her roommate was shocked that she could speak English fluently ignorant of the fact that English was the official language in Nigeria. In a speech she delivered at Oxford University in 2009, Ngozi Adichie spoke about the “single story” and the dangers of interpreting life or people through a narrow lens.

As a young reader, Ngozi Adichie was exposed to European rather than African children’s books.

So when she started dabbling with her own stories as young girls do, she found that she was mentally locked into characters and tales she had read about.

Her opening words would always be followed by characters “who were white and blue-eyed. “They played in the snow. They ate apples and they talked a lot about the weather — how lovely it was the sun came up.” All this despite the fact that she had never been outside Nigeria and never had snow and ate mangoes and not apples.

They never dwelt on weather under the ever present African sun.

Years later, Ngozie Adichie experienced a mental shift when she encountered African writers like Chinua Achebe.

Her perception of literature drastically changed as she got to realise that girls like herself, black with kinky hair could also exist in books of literature. Her discovery of African writers served her from viewing books with an identity of a single story dominated by white characters.

Ngozie Adichie’s mental shift definitely transformed her perception of reality and that perceptive mind of ravelling the deeper meaning of things is reflected in her collection of short stories The Thing Around Your Neck published in 2009.

While most of the protagonists in the 12 short stories are females, this does not make the book a “single story” narrative as each story illuminates a multi-faceted interpretation of reality by women and men in various settings and backgrounds grappling with daily struggles of life.

Like most writers, one’s experience forms the reservoir of stories.

Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nsuka, in south-eastern Nigeria, where a number of the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck are set. The book explores themes of Nigerian identity and a Nigeria Diaspora particularly in America.

The stories like Cell One details the life of a middle class Nigeria family whose first born son grows up pampered at a university campus until he is arrested for being suspected of being part of students’ cults notorious for murderous acts.

It is clear from the nameless narrator who happens to be the sister of Nnamabia that she is hot under the collar in terms of the way her parents pampers her brother who is rarely reprimanded for his misdemeanours. Even after staging a burglary and stealing his mother’s jewellery, no action is taken against her brother besides being told by her Professor father to write a report.

“What else could my father have done? After Nnamabia wrote the report, my father filed it in the steel drawer in his study where he kept our school papers,” says the narrator as she recounts on the inaction taken against her brother.

While his eventual arrest offers a poignant reawakening on psyche of the young Nnamabia, it seems the parents have a gripe more with the system than with their wayward son.

In general, many of the characters in the collection are young married women but there are also older men, single women, young boys and handful non-Nigerian American friends, boyfriends, employers and neighbours.

Nigerian identity seems central in the collection, though not necessarily foreground.

Source : The Herald