Title: Jumping Monkey Hill
Author: Chimamanda N. Adichie
Book: The Thing Around Your Neck
The story follows the experiences of aspiring writer Ujunwa at a writing workshop hosted by the British academic Edward Campbell and sponsored by the British Council. Evidently, Edward’s choices in location of the workshop venue and criticisms are deeply rooted in his pride as a devoted Oxford scholar of African literature for forty years and also to subtly humiliate his subjects. This absolutely forms Ujunwa’s first opinions about Edward. She deems him a neo-colonialist who specializes in organizing workshops that rewrite African stories to suit his barely disguised “imperialistic uninformed” ideas about African literature as studied in Oxford (or Africa as described in the news). Also, noteworthy is how Ujunwa forms her opinions of the other participants/characters based on their responses/relationships with Edward. She dislikes the Ugandan for his constant “toadying” to the white man (Edward) and likes the Senegalese for her deep irreverence (for British orderliness shown by the Francophone accent and fat dreadlocks).
The story also lightly touches on what is still largely the idea of Africans to sexuality- specifically same-sex relations. The senegalese announces she is a lesbian (noting that her parents treat her like a joke for it) and the black South African “freaks out”. Even Edward asks, how African is it for a person to tell her family that she is homosexual?
The story also mentions Edward’s penchant for sexualizing Ujunwa without respect. She later learnt he sexualizes/objectifies the other participants.
Typical of Adichie, her characters have very strong identities which Adichie subtly pins on their nationalities, almost at the risk of forming national stereotypes like the black South African is too passive to white domination, the Ugandan is a worshipper of whiteness and a disrespecter of black skin. This stereotyping is almost worrying to the reader until you console yourself that it’s just fiction – it’s meant to serve a literary purpose only, not a realistic one. You actually wonder why she didn’t just assign each character, names. Also, on characterization, its hard to miss Adichie’s adoration of strong women by naming the heroine with the two names, (Chioma) Ujunwa, an obvious homage to Nigeria’s first female Olympic Gold medallist in track athletics, Chioma Ajunwa.
As a writer and critic, you sense Adichie’s characters have a subtle distaste for African literary awards and prizes sponsored, organized and hosted by non-African foundations whose idea of “an urgent and relevant”, maybe even sellable African story is “puerile violence” of African wars and its attendant ignoble outcomes. Ujunwa mourns the death of the African Writer’s series. The story climaxes on Edward’s dismissal of Ujunwa’s story as unreal while in actual fact, the story is a real writing of Ujunwa’s real experiences as a female Lagos job-hunter. Edward is clearly defeated in his ideas of what a “real African story” sounds like.
Jumping Monkey Hill scores a C for characterization, an A+ for story-telling, an A- for its handling of sensitive topics. An A- for language and consistency. Overall, it’s a pleasurable read and well written. Would be enjoyed most by writers and literary enthusiasts.by