Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s brilliant collection of short stories, which I’m reading right now, has been nominated – along with a handful of other African writers from Nigeria, as well as Ghana and South Africa – for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. I’m loving her prose on migration and wish I could share it with every Senegalese cab driver who asks me about visas – no, more than visas; big cars and houses and salaries – to America. Just another reason to promote West African literature here in West Africa.
From ‘The Thing Around Your Neck’:
‘Sometimes you sat on the lumpy mattress of your twin bed and thought about home – your aunts who hawked dried fish and plantains, cajoling customers to buy and then shouting insults when they didn’t; your uncles who drank local gin and crammed their families and lives into single rooms; your friends who had come out to say goodbye before you left, to rejoice because you won the American visa lottery, to confess their envy…your mother whose salary was barely enough to pay your brothers’ school fees at the secondary school where teachers gave an A when someone slipped them a brown envelope…nobody knew where you were, because you told no one. Sometimes you felt invisible and tried to walk through your room wall into the hallway, and when you bumped into the wall it left bruises on your arms. At night, something would wrap itself around your neck, something that very nearly choked you before you fell asleep.’
And from ‘The American Embassy’: ‘She stood in line outside the American embassy in Lagos, staring straight ahead, barely moving, a blue plastic file of documents tucked under her arm. She was the forty-eighth person in the line of about two hundred that trailed from the closed gates of the American embassy all the way past the smaller, vine-encrusted gates of the Czech embassy…Because they had all woken up early – those who had slept at all – to get to the American embassy before dawn; because they had all struggled for the visa line, dodging the soldiers’ swinging whips; because they were all afraid that the American embassy might decide not to open its gates today, and they would have to do it all over again the day after tomorrow since the embassy did not open on Wednesdays, they had formed friendships. The woman in front turned to glance at her and then went back to talking to some people about a special church service called the American Visa Miracle Ministry.’