Probably the first book about Africa most Westerners my age read was written by a European. Most likely it was Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness, with its depiction of the white man who was deemed to have gone crazy because he went "native". The West has been pillaging the various countries of Africa for centuries now. First for their people to use as slaves now their natural resources for our material goods. No matter what we take, poverty, corruption, and all that accompany the two trail behind us like the wake of some malevolent creature who sucks the goodness out of its prey, leaving behind a husk containing only the bile and other noxious wastes.
Yet we know nothing at all about Africans as people, as we hardly ever read stories that don't have something to do with atrocities or are "heartwarming tales of survival". Of course very few of us even stop to think about just how many cultures we're talking about when we say Africa, although each country is home to at least one or two distinct people with their own histories. The only time its even brought to our attention is when cynical leadership pits one ethnic group against another in a bid for power and violence results. Thankfully over the past couple of years the number of African writers whose work is either being translated into English or written in that language in first place is increasing, and with a little bit of searching you can find a voice that will tell the stories of his or her people.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, recently published by Random House Canada, is a collection of short fiction travelling across time and geography to give us glimpses into the lives of Nigerian women and their experiences both at home and as immigrants to the United States. Adichie currently divides her time between her homeland and the United States, where she attended university, which gives her a perspective on both worlds that very few others are able to offer. The 12 stories are roughly split between the two settings, but no matter where, or when, the story takes place, what struck me most was the emotional honesty she brings to her work.
Perhaps this is what makes her stories both compelling and believable at the same time. Her characters, no matter what their status or situation, react to their circumstances in ways that we might not understand, but which prove to be true to who they are and their needs. Who are we to say if we were in the same situation as the young bride in "The Arrangers Of Marriage" we wouldn't act like she does. What would you do if upon arriving in America you discover the husband your aunt and uncle had picked out for you had omitted to tell your family details like he had married an American woman to obtain his green card and still hadn't divorced her? What else can she do but stay with him until he obtains the divorce so she can get the papers she needs in order to be legal. Deportation would send her back to a family, who would find a way of not only making the marriage's failure her fault, but also a sign of her ingratitude for all that they'd done for her.