Monday, June 7, 2010

C. N. Adichie, "Transition to Glory"

Let’s begin a trip through One Story stories with an oldie, published in 2003. I’ll leap up to the present shortly, after a couple other detours to the past. By the way, last year I published my first note on a One Story piece, here.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Transition to Glory” (One Story 27, September 30, 2003) is a story of an affair (“In her better moods, she liked that word, affair, liked the decadent affectation that clung to it, affair” [7]). It takes place in Nigeria. One party is a radio talk show host called Ozioma; the other is a powerful and wealthy man called Agha. Her name means “Gospel”; his means “War” (11). Ozioma is much younger than Agha, almost as old as the oldest daughter Agha has with Didi, his wife.

The story jumps back and forth from descriptions of the affair to scenes that are set after Agha’s death. Agha dies in a car crash not too long after the affair had begun. One of the most poignant moments in the story is when Ozioma puzzles at a crumpled newspaper at home (she never rolls them up into a ball like that, she thinks), straightens it out, and finds Agha’s full-page obituary. The story ends when Ozioma visits Didi. She was drawn there for some reason, they talk about the affair (Didi figures it out when she sees Ozioma walk in), and Ozioma walks out when Didi breaks down and starts to bawl.

The story is not really all that. It’s spiced up with a bunch of “local flavor.” Rituals and traditions show up repeatedly.

As with all One Story pieces, there is an online interview with the author. Balancing the past and the present, Adichie says, was the most challenging part of writing the story. The bit of writing advice she mentions is Jason Cowley’s: “there is never any reason, in fiction, to rhapsodize the ordinary.” Sound advice. 

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