As a white South African, I’ll be first to admit that my interest in literature and music has been largely focused on work coming out of Europe and the USA. I had some exposure to South African and African authors at University, but I can’t say that they ‘grabbed’ me. However, that has changed, and one African author who changed that for me is Chimanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author and speaker. Not sure if you do the same, but I’ll often read a book because of who the author is. Granted, I do the reverse too; read a great book and then research more about the author and her/his works.
Why reading South African and African works is important:
Understanding perspectives and context is probably the single biggest challenge that the world faces today. Check out your news feed. All you hear about are aggressive, often violent, unbalanced views of groups of leaders, citizens, public personalities – all pushing their views. Very one-sided. Often uncompromising. Please don’t misunderstand me – I love passion and purpose, and I’m a believer in human/animal/earthly rights for all. What I am saying though, is that without some understanding of the other person or group’s context, how can one hope to reach a position of enlightenment, of compromise, of peace, and of harmony. If that is what one is hoping for, which may well not be the case in some instances. Sad.
In the case of South Africa and Africa, we have a wonderfully diverse country and continent. Rich with many different histories, languages, religions and races. The need for understanding is vital in order to fully appreciate where we come from.
Why this book?
‘The Thing Around Your Neck’ is a great way to start reading Chimanda’s work as it is a series of short stories. 12 short stories. You’d be forgiven for thinking the stories are biographical, because they are so well written that you feel they must have come for a deeply personal place in the author. Chimanda is so clever at raising very real societal issues through these stories. You will be emotionally stirred when you read the stories, all of them very raw and real. Chimanda does not shy away from using African names and situations to make her stories come to life. I couldn’t put this book of short stories down, and I found myself thinking how little I understand about Nigerian culture, and as a result; how moved I was. Very similar to how I felt reading Paulo Coelho’s works for the first time, which are often as gritty, and written from a Brazillian perspective.
If you are the kind of person who likes to know more about the author before you read the book, then check out the popular TED Talk by Chimanda Adichie, entitled ‘The danger of the single story’.
Next time you’re about to purchase a book (paper or digital), pause. Perhaps do some more research, and then choose the book that will give you access to the perspectives of an author, a country and culture, an industry even, which you have never explored before.
After all, they say ‘A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies…the man who never reads lives only one.’ George RR Martin.
Photo taken by Alison, September 2019.