Thoughts on “Cell One” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Tomorrow is Nigerian Independence Day, and to celebrate, another blogger 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. Here are some jumbled thoughts on Cell One.

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 (reviewed here), 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.

Reviewed on September 30, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

    • Celawerd » Although I tend to stick with Victorian classics, I have greatly enjoyed African literature lately. There is so much out there! Adichie is amazing. I highly recommend her two novels, Half of a Yellow Sun (be prepared for an EMOTIONAL story) and Purple Hibiscus.

  • I have a bad tendency to speed through short story collections too! Then I remember practically nothing from each individual story; heck, I don’t even give myself time to savor each story because I simply read them like chapters in a book! In other words, I admire your restrictions on yourself!

  • I spread out story collections too which, as you say, is hard to do sometimes. But otherwise I do find the tales get lost in a blur. I’ve only read one from this collection from hers, but I am looking forward to the others. And, as you say, HOAYS could always use a re-read!

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