"A Private Experience" 6 pages, 2008-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"Quality Street" 9 pages 2010 by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (1977-Abba, Nigeria) is a a writer of huge potential. This potential was also seen by the New Yorker when they named her recently among 20 writers of fiction under the age of 40 to watch. The MacArthur foundation also recently gave her a grant. She has written two novels, set in Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus (2003) and the Orange Prize winning Half of a Yellow Sun in 2007. Her work centers on the cultural conflicts in Nigerian society and the life of Nigerians outside the country. She left Nigeria at age 19 to attend college in America and has an MA from Yale. I have to admit that up until a day or so ago when I got tweet suggesting I might like her short stories I had not yet heard of Adichie. A number of her short stories can be read online (I will give the links at the end of the post) as well as essays, interviews, and extracts from her novels. I read two of her short stories yesterday and really liked them both a lot. She has just published a collection of short stories and both of these works are in that collection.
"Quality Street" centers around the planning of the wedding of a young Nigerian woman who attended college in Ohio. Her mother, a wealthy widow very concerned about making bigger show of the wedding than was had at the wedding of the daughters of her friends, is not happy about the changes the time in American seemed to have caused in her daughter:
Perhaps Sochienne should never have been sent to school in America. But who knew a private university in Ohio would mean that Sochienne would return six years later, announcing that she was engaged to a Kenyan, refusing to eat meat, asking the baffled houseboys about fair wages, and wearing her hair in long rubbery dreadlocks.
Sochienne's mother had chosen this school because she had been assured that only the children of the wealthy went there and she was appalled when she visited and saw the casual dress of the students and worse yet the professors. A lot is conveyed in the few lines above. We sense that marrying a Kenyan is simply too much for the mother and she is appalled by her daughter's new found interest in social justice. The story just sort of jumps into the lives of the characters and does allow us to get a good grasp of their world in just a few pages. I think her stories have a universal appeal well beyond those interested in just the Nigerian experience. The stories are about, among other things, the effects of colonization on the rich and the poor of any country once dominated by outside powers. ( It should be noted that not all colonizers are western countries).
"A Private Experience" is told from the point of view of young woman from an upper class family who went out with her sister to experience the street markets where the "common" people of Abuja (the capital of Nigeria) shop. She is suddenly caught up in a violent riot in which having the wrong tribal background (or just look) can result in your arm being cut off with a machete. In her extreme terror an obviously very poor woman takes her with her into an abandoned store where they should be able to safely wait out the riot. The young woman can barely find away to relate to her rescuer as she seems so different from her. She both fears and pities her rescuer. In one really telling and poignant remark she tells the woman that after the riot she will have her chauffeur take the woman home. Adichie does a very good job setting out the cultural conflicts in the world the two women are caught up in:
Even without the woman's strong Hausa accent, Chika can tell she is a Northerner, from the narrowness of her face, the unfamiliar rise of her cheekbones; and that she is Muslim, because of the scarf. It hangs around the woman's neck now, but it was probably wound loosely round her face before, covering her ears. A long, flimsy pink and black scarf, with the garish prettiness of cheap things. Chika wonders if the woman is looking at her as well, if the woman can tell, from her light complexion and the silver finger rosary her mother insists she wear, that she is Igbo and Christian. Later, Chika will learn that, as she and the woman are speaking, Hausa Muslims are hacking down Igbo Christians with machetes, clubbing them with stones. But now she says, "Thank you for calling me. Everything happened so fast and everybody ran and I was suddenly alone and I didn't know what I was doing. Thank you."
To me these are two good stories that in just a few pages build a world we can enter into. Adichie has a sharp eye for small telling details. Sometimes she might tell where the masters might show but that is OK. I liked these stories a lot and I will read Half of a Yellow Sun soon, I hope. I endorse these stories without reservation to anyone who likes a well crafted short story or wants to learn about a new to them writer who hopefully has a very prolific future ahead of them.
"Quality Street" can be read here
"A Private Experience" can be read here
If anyone has any suggestions as to other short stories that I might like (and can read online) please leave a comment.
I think it is very generous of Adichie to allow so much of her work to be read online and look forward to watching her develop into a great short story writer. Some might say she relies a lot on the intrinsic cultural interest of the subject matter of her stories to make them interesting but she is writing about what she knows and is clearly passionate about.
Her very well done official web page (link here) has links to a lot of her work.