A Private Experience Summary (+5 Important Lessons About Riots)

A Private Experience is a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This post looks at five talking points from the short story.

Before you continue, this post reminds readers that literary fiction imitates lives. You can learn from some if you reflect on them, so I started writing about the lessons in fiction books. You can read other reviews about The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas or East of Eden.

In literature classes or discussions, they call it critical reviews.

5 Life Lessons from A Private Experience By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The summary is that two women climbed into and hid inside a shot during a riot.

So, you have not experienced a riot? This post explains some of the things that could happen.

1. Your kindness can save someone’s life

In the story, two women from different backgrounds and cultures escape the scene of a riot. They represent the opposition in the chaos outside. Chika is Igbo and Christian; the other woman is a northerner and Muslim.

Outside the room, the Northerners go from shop to shop, burning properties belonging to Igbos (mostly Christians).

Here’s what Chika says when they get into a safe place:

“Thank you for calling me. Everything happened so fast, and everybody ran, and I was suddenly alone, and I didn’t know what I was doing. Thank you.”

Despite being a northerner, the other woman had called Chika and helped her to safety. This not-so-simple act saved Chika’s life.

2. When bad things happen, you lose control of yourself

This is not to encourage violence or bad habits. But in this story, the main character struggles to understand what’s happening around her.

The streets where she ran blindly, not sure in which direction Nnedi had run, not sure if the man running beside her was a friend or an enemy, not sure if she should stop and pick up one of the bewildered-looking children separated from their mothers in the rush, not even sure who was who or who was killing whom.

A private Experience, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Devil’s Ex-Fiancee

3. Good things hardly come out of riots

The aftermath of the riots shows many lives lost. Families will never remain the same. Loved ones are nowhere to be found.

…Later she will see the hulks of burned cars, jagged holes in place of their windows and windshields, and she will imagine the burning cars dotting the city like picnic bonfires, silent witnesses to so much…

….Later, Chika will comb the hospital mortuaries looking for Nnedi; she will go to newspaper offices clutching the photo of herself and Nnedi taken at a wedding just the week before, the one where she has a stupid smile-yelp on her face because Nnedi pinched her just before the photo was taken, the two of them wearing matching off-the-shoulder Ankara gowns.

4. You don’t have to participate to become victims

Often, riot victims are just ordinary people going about their lives. The victims are often just visitors, just like Chika and her sister.

She and her sister should not be affected by the riot. Riots like this were what she read about in newspapers. Riots like this were what happened to other people.

It’s the same with politics or support. Poor government decisions can affect even kids not qualified to vote during elections.

5. The aftermath of riots can be traumatic and difficult to erase

It could be a fight between life and death, just like for Chika. It could be difficult to tell which side of the fight a person is by looking at dead bodies.

When Chika and her aunt go searching throughout Kano, a policeman in the front seat of her aunt’s air-conditioned car, she will see other bodies, many burned, lying lengthwise along the sides of the street, as though someone carefully pushed them there, straightening them. She will look at only one of the corpses, naked, stiff, facedown, and it will strike her that she cannot tell if the partially burned man is Igbo or Hausa, Christian or Muslim, from looking at that charred flesh.

What does the aftermath of a riot look like?

A Private Experience is about two people caught in a fight between their ethnic groups, but they decide to help each other.

The story answers “what it feels like to be caught in the middle of a riot” and “what it looks like a day or hours after a serious riot.”

You can find other book summaries like this on the blog.

You can read the main story here.

Read: 8 Lessons from The Handmaid’s Tale

You also read my review of Americanah.