The short story format is vastly underrated. If all you have is a couple thousand words at most, you must choose them very carefully in order to create full, believable characters and a satisfying character arc. If I’m to find my way as a writer, it’s important to read ferociously and to think critically about each piece. Yesterday I had the joy of reading Imitation by Chimamanda Adichie. It is a perfect example of how to give the readers a glimpse into the lives of full characters and explore heavy themes with precision and flair.
The story starts with shocking news; Nkem’s husband Obiora has a girlfriend. Over the course of the story we realise that his having a girlfriend is not that shocking, she too had dated married men when she was younger and single. Through this news Nkem’s eyes are opened to who SHE is and where her life choices have led her.
She has married a “big man” and he makes sure she is taken care of. She in turn must keep herself up to his standards. When he is about to arrive, she gets her hair done and has a wax so that she is perfect for him. With the revelation of his extra-marital relations, she impulsively decides to cut off her hair.
Oh boy! This is a well-known act of defiance, a move towards independence, cutting off what is expected of her, literally… Think Britney. So, perhaps not the most original plot point but evocative and effective.
Obiora collects African art (masks and other pieces of cultural significance), however, they are all imitations. As he orates the meaning and purpose of each new piece, he also explains how all the originals were destroyed by the colonialists or are on show in museums around the world. I wonder if she is saying that African culture has been compromised and there is no ‘original’ culture left?
Nkem sees that the life she has built in America is also an imitation and makes a bold decision to start living authentically. At the end of the story I feel Nkem still has a long way to go before she will have achieved authenticity and honesty in her own heart and mind. I appreciate that Adichie doesn’t try to give us all the answers but rather leaves it with the reader to figure out what happens next.