Saturday, July 2, 2016

The thing around your neck(book review)-part 2

What nobody tells you about writing book reviews is; review it as soon as you can because if you delay and review it a month or two later (like in this case),you don’t remember the story/stories as clearly.You look at the book, all the yellow highlights, some you get and some you have to re-read the whole page to understand why they ‘qualified’ to be highlighted.

Here goes stories number 5-8.This means there is still stories 9-12 J J, see; books that have short stories are a steal to read because 12 stories in 1 book  are great (but a lot of work to review)

On Monday Last Week

''Hi, Kamara,’’ Tracy had said, coming toward her. ’I’m Tracy’’. Her voice was deep and her womanly body was fluid and her sweater and hands were paint-stained.
‘’Oh,hello’’, Kamara said, smiling. ’’Nice to finally meet you, Tracy’’.
Kamara held out a hand but Tracy came close and touched her chin. Did you ever wear braces?
‘’Braces ?’’
‘’You have the most beautiful teeth.’’

On Monday Last Week tells the story of two college sweet hearts Tobechi and Kamara who met and fell in love while at University and got married soon after graduation. Tobechi goes to America immediately after, leaving his new wife behind. It takes 6 years for him to sort his papers and to be able to have Kamara join him. When Kamara finally goes to America a lot has changed and she even wonders if he is the same man she married.

She stared at him as he spoke, his Igbo interspersed with English that had an ungainly American accent; ‘’Amah go’’ for ‘’I will go’’. He had not spoken like that on the phone. Or had he, and she had not noticed? Was it simply seeing him that was different and that it was Tobechi of university that she had expected to find? He excavated memories and aired them, rejoiced in them: Do you remember the night we bought Suya in the rain? She remembered. She remembered that there had been a crackling thunderstorm and the electric bulb were blinking and they had eaten soggy grilled meat with raw onions that made their eyes water. She remembered, too, how their relationship had been filled with an effortless ease. Now, their silences were awkward, but she told herself that things will get better.

Tobechi persuades Kamara to look for a babysitting job despite her having a masters degree from Nigeria as she waits for him to sort out his papers to show that he is married to her, so that she could get her work permit and get a good job.

She gets a job to baby sit a boy called Josh whose Dad (Neil) is a lawyer and mum (Tracy) is an artist. The dad is the one that is actively engage in raising the boy as the mother is an artist who needs her time to herself to finalise on her works of art as she is working on a tight deadline driven schedule.

But on a certain Monday (aka Monday last week) Tracy comes from her work hide-out and this woman is a woman who as Kamara will come to realize has skills for making people feel special(very special at that) and yet they mean nothing to her , she looks deep into Kamara’s eyes and tells her the way she has beautiful teeth and that she would love to draw her and Kamara is so happy that she even starts watching what she eats, plans to buy make-up and is generally happier than she has been in days because she is going to be an artist’s model and be drawn. Only to realize that Josh’s mum is like that with every one when his French teacher visits to give him French classes at home and she meets his mum who goes ahead to complement her on her eyes, making the teacher feel so special.

Neil introduced them. Maren extended her hand and Tracy took it.
‘’Are you wearing contacts?’’ Tracy asked.
‘’Contacts? No.’’
‘’You have the most unusual eyes.Violet’’. Tracy was still holding Maren’s hand.
‘’Oh.Thank you!’’Maren giggled nervously
‘’Have you ever been an artist’s model?’’...............................................................

Phrases/quotes I liked in this story.

You speak such good English, he said, and it annoyed her, his surprise, his assumption that English was somehow his personal property. And because of this, although Tobechi had warned her not to mention her education, she told Neil that she had a masters’ degree, that she had recently arrived in America and wanted to earn a little money babysitting while waiting for her green card application to be processed so that she could get a proper work permit.

She had come to understand that American parenting was juggling of anxieties, and that it came with having too much food: a sated belly gave Americans time to worry that their child might have a rare disease that they had just read about, made them think that they had a right to protect their children from disappointment and want and failure. A sated belly gave Americans the luxury of praising themselves for being good parents, as if caring for one’s child were the exception rather than the rule.

Jumping Monkey Hill

'That evening the Tanzanian read an excerpt of his story about the killings in the Congo, from the view point of a militiaman, a man full of prurient violence .Edward said it would be the lead story in the Oratory, that it was urgent and relevant, that it brought news.’

This story is about a group of writers at a writers’ workshop where they each have to write an ‘African story’ and share it before the workshop ends. Each evening one of the writers reads their story and the others discuss, praise and critic it. Jumping Monkey Hill is the name of the resort where the workshop is held.

The writers’ conference has been organized by a white British man (Edward) who in the story comes off as a condescending man who thinks he knows more about what an African story should be even more than the writers who are from different African countries. He is also keener on the typical African stories of war and hunger in the continent as opposed to other things that can be happening and are happening in the continent.

‘Then he (Edward) looked at Ujunwa, in the way one would look at a child who refused to keep still in church and said that he wasn’t speaking as an Oxford trained Africanist, but as one who was keen on the real Africa and not the imposing of Western ideas on African venues.’

The writers know all this but they are all trying to be in his good books because they know he has the ability/networks to link them to agents and writing grants.The story is told through Ujunwa who is a female writer from Nigeria whose story for this workshop is based on her own life experiences but when she reads it Edward says;

‘’It’s never quite like that in real life, is it? Women are never victims in that sort of crude way and certainly not in Nigeria. Nigeria has women in high positions. The most powerful cabinet minister today is a woman.’’

Quotes/Phrases I liked from this story

‘The next day at breakfast, Isabel used just such a tone when she sat next to Ujunwa and said that surely, with that exquisite bone structure, Ujunwa had to come from Nigerian royal stock. The first thing that came to Ujunwa’s mind was to ask if Isabel ever needed royal blood to explain the good looks of friends back in London. She did not ask that but instead said-because she could not resist-that she was indeed a princess and came from an ancient lineage and that one of her forebears had captured a Portuguese trader in the seventeenth century and kept him, pampered, and oiled, in a royal cage.’

‘’But why do we say nothing? ” Ujunwa asked. She raised her voice and looked at the others. ”Why do we always say nothing?”

The thing around your neck

‘It wasn’t just to your parents you wanted to write, it was also to your friends, and cousins and aunts and uncles. But you could never afford enough perfumes and clothes and handbags and shoes to go around and still pay your rent on what you earned at the waitressing job, so you wrote to nobody.’

This story is about a girl who gets a green card and travels to America where before she went, her, her family and friends thought that everyone was rich and had big cars and houses. She arrives in America and realizes the realities there couldn’t be more different, she works as a waitress and struggles to make ends meet.

Then she meets and has a relationship with a white man who is one of those white people who is really privileged and is able to take time (years) of school to go find himself and do things like buying gifts just for the sake of gifting(buying gifts that have no use). Who even despite all these privileges he has because of his parents despises them and doesn’t want to spend time with them, which she doesn’t understand.

Because of how different the country is from what she expected when she came, she doesn’t write home to anyone but always sends money, but when she sees the bad relationship that her boyfriend has with his parents she finally writes home, finds out that her father passed on :-( and decides to go visit her family.

I read this story and could not figure the meaning of the title from the story because for all the other stories, it’s pretty easy to understand the co-relation between the titles and the content of the story.Of-course there is the mention of the thing around the main character’s neck in the story and it loosening but more than that you don’t get a direct meaning (for sure I didn’t) of what it is.

Quotes/Phrases I liked from this story

You said no the following four days to going out with him ,because you were uncomfortable with the way he looked at your face, that intense, consuming way he looked at your face that made you reluctant to walk away .And then, the fifth night, you panicked when he was not standing at the door after your shift. You prayed for the first time in a long time and when he came up behind you and said hey, you said yes, you would go out with him, even before he asked. You were scared he would not ask again.

When I say Chimamanda writes for a female audience best believe because such lines only women can fully appreciate them.

In later weeks, though, you wanted to write because you had stories to tell. You wanted to write about the surprising openness of the people in America, how eagerly they told you about their mother fighting cancer, about their sister in-law’s preemie, the kind of things one should hide or should reveal only to the family members that wished them well. You wanted to write about how people left so much food on their plates and crumpled a few dollar bills down, as though it was an offering, expiation for the wasted food. You wanted to write about rich people who wore shabby clothes and tattered sneakers, who looked like the night watchman in front of the large compounds in Lagos. You wanted to write that rich Americans were thin and poor Americans were fat and that many did not have a big house and car; you still were not sure about the guns though, because they might have them inside their pockets.

The American Embassy.

Two days ago she buried her child in a grave near a vegetable patch in their ancestral hometown of Umunnachi, surrounded by well-wishers she did not remember now. The day before, she had driven her husband in the boot of their Toyota to the home of a friend, who smuggled him out of the country, And the day before that, she hadn’t needed to take a passport photo; her life was normal and she had taken Ugonna to school, bought him a sausage roll at Mr.Biggs, had sung along with Majek Fashek on her car radio. If a fortune teller had told her that she, in the space of a few days would no longer recognize her life, she would have laughed.

The American Embassy is a story of a newspaper reporter who wrote articles that were anti-government and because of this the president or some really powerful person in the government had ordered that he is assassinated but he got this information before hand and therefore was able to flee in time. The hired goons came to his house and accidentally killed his only child. It tells the story of how his wife tries to get a visa to travel to the states as an asylum seeker and her experience and that of others trying to get their visas at the American embassy.

Quotes/Phrases I liked from this story

‘She looked at the next window for a moment, at a man in a dark suit who was leaning close to the screen, reverently, as though praying to the visa interviewer behind. And she realized that she would gladly die at the hands of the man in the black hooded shirt or the one with the shiny bald head before she said a word about Ugonna (the son) to this interviewer, or to anybody at the American embassy. Before she hawked Ugonna for a visa to safety.’

‘’Government’’ was such a big label, it was freeing, it gave people room to maneuver and excuse and re-blame. Three men like her husband or her brother or the man behind her on the visa line. Three men.’’

She looked at the faded lips, moving to show tiny teeth. Faded pink lips in a freckled, insulated face. She had the urge to ask the interviewer if the stories in the New Nigeria were worth the life of a child. But she didn’t. She doubted that the visa interviewer knew about pro-democracy newspapers or about the long, tired lines outside the embassy gates in cordoned-off areas with no shade where the furious sun caused friendships and headaches and despair.’

‘A new life. It was Ugonna who had given her a new life, surprised by how quickly she took to the new identity he gave her. ’’I’m Ugonna’s mother,’’ she would say at his nursery school, to teachers, to parents of other children.’

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