Tomorrow is Nigerian Independence Day, and to celebrate, Amy Reads has challenged us to read and post about literature by a Nigerian born author (or an author of Nigerian heritage).
The story I chose to read for this project was “Cell One,” the first story in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s collection The Thing Around Your Neck. In some respects, this was an unfortunately sad story for this project, for the view of Nigerian politics is rather drear. On the other hand, because it was so well done, I had to force myself to not read any more of Adichie’s collection (and I desperately wanted to) because I’ve been promising myself I’m going to read the collection of stories slowly, despite my inclination to breeze through it. (Since I’ve already read Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, these twelve stories are all I have left until something new is published. Of course, Half of a Yellow Sun is in need of a reread, so we’ll see…)
“Cell One” focuses on the out-of-control crime and the corrupt policing situation in Nigeria by telling the story of one (probably innocent) boy’s stay in jail. Gangs (called “cults”) of violence surrounded Nsukka University campus. Adichie’s story makes campus shootings and stabbings (!) sound like a routine fear for those seeking a higher education. Given the police’s inability to gain control of the violent situation, when someone is taken in to custody, the police want to make an example of them. Unfortunately, the narrator’s brother, Nnamabia, was one of those taken in as “guilty,” with no proof and essentially no reasoning.
From my privileged middle-class American perspective, the bribery and the corruption, the filth and the inequalities in the prison system was rather shocking. And yet, I realized that Adichie was writing in a sincere voice. I hope (but doubt) many of the issues with the police system have been resolved since this stories creation. And yet, Adichie manages to infuse the entire discouraging situation with a degree of hope in the character of Nnamabia. Because this is a rather short story, I don’t want to reveal the end and the ways in which she does this.
Just know that once again, Adichie rises to the occasion. Although like her other novels “Cell One” is painful to read, it is powerful in its effect on the reader. As when I read Half of a Yellow Sun, I finished reading with a better understanding of the challenges to Nigeria as well as degree of hope the goodness of human nature. Now I want to read the rest of the volume! Must. Hold. Out.
I had hoped to reread Things Fall Apart for this Nigerian project. I last read it in July when I was not feeling well enough to post on the blog coherently. I didn’t have time for that. At any rate, next week I hope to return to the my RIP short story regular — I may have to do more than one story a week to catch up with the RIP season!