“The Thing Around Your Neck” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the first book I read that’s written about immigrants’ life from an immigrant’s point of view. The struggle and the hustle and the opinions expressed have that special effect that I can identify with.
Other books I’ve read on similar topics are different in that they are mostly written by children of immigrants. The struggle for identity and acceptance is different; the view of cultural difference is different; the nostalgia is different.
I really like the following aspects of “The Thing Around Your Neck”:
- The immigrant community is filled up with people who are over-educated. In the story “On Monday Of Last Week”, the heroine is looking for a job of babysitter even if she has a master degree. That’s not uncommon at all. I know the name of brilliant scientists who work in Subway sandwich shops, best surgeons who sell herbal medicine, or artists who become waiters for life. You probably want to say that nowadays there’s a diploma inflation and everybody is over-educated everywhere. However this problem exists in its extreme form in the immigrant community. I once met a car salesman who have two master degrees, one in business and one in food science. He was originally hired to serve the immigrant community since he can speak several different languages, but he soon changed gears. He doesn’t want to serve immigrants because immigrants always negotiate the price more vehemently. Several years ago when we went to see him, he just told us plainly that he prefers real American clients, not immigrant clients. “You are an immigrant yourself but you discriminate against immigrants.” I jokingly told him. “So what?” He stared at me as if what he had done was the most natural thing to do.
- People don’t think about issues such as identity or acceptance since they are too busy struggling with more imminent dangers such as monthly bills, jobs, saving money etc. The topic of saving money is not really prominent in the book, but in my circle and environment, it is something people have to think about everyday. I’ve met several “Mr. Beans” kind of personality who are very innovative in their money saving schemes, from lower the heating during the winter, turning off the air conditioning during the summer, eating chicken, egg and rice for months, buying bulky wholesale style from Costco, to attempting gutter cleaning and roofing by themselves. I’ve always wondered if there are some interesting stories in there, but most of the time life is so mundane and the stories would be uninteresting when they are written. I still haven’t figured out how to make these more readable.
Here are a few quotes I find very interesting:
“It’s one of the things she has come to love about America: the abundance of unreasonable hope.”
“She was excited because she had married into the coveted league–the rich Nigerian men who sent their wives to America to have babies league.”
“The vice chancellor announced that all evening classes were cancelled and everyone had to be indoors by 9 p.m. This did not make much sense to me, since the shooting happened in sparkling daylight”
“He’s a collection of anxieties. He told her that Josh might be unhappy; Josh didn’t see enough of him; Josh is the only child; Josh would have issues about his childhood when he’s older; Josh would be depressed. Half way through, Tamaro wanted to cut him short and asked, ‘why are you worrying about things that have not happened?'”
“They slapped at flying insects, and drank wine and laughed and teased one another. You Kenyans are too submissive; you Nigerians are too aggressive; you Tanzanians have no fashion sense; you Senegalese are too brainwashed by the French.”