Thursday, 24 October 2013

Review: Purple Hibiscus By Chimanda Ngozi Adichie

I read this because I'd previously read Half of a Yellow Sun and I'd thought it was amazing, it totally blew me away. This book wasn't quite so good, but really, what's going to be? But it was still good. The book engages with gender, class, colonialism, religion, and coming of age through the eyes of 15 year old Kambili.

 Like in Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie has a very nuanced understanding of how these things relate to and influence each other and she uses that to weave a compelling engaging story.

 Kambili's relationship with her father seemed very real to me, that he was abusive to her, her mother, and her brother and she was terrified of him but adored and idolised him at the same time. It really resonated with me how much of the abuse stemmed from an oppressive religion and how her father was seen as a good godly man in his community, how he is generous and caring to those outside his home, how he cares about standing up for others and what he believes, but in his domestic sphere he is a controlling abusive tyrant who terrifies his wife and children.

 The book deals a lot with religion, with how the religion of the colonisers effects the colonised, how Kambili imagines God and Jesus as white, which is not something I have ever thought about before but of course makes perfect sense. It interrogates  what it does to ones sense of self if one imagines a supposedly perfect God as significantly different to yourself. One of the running threads in the book was how her fathers conversion to christianity created a rift between him and her grandfather who believed in and practiced traditional Igbo religion, how her father was more concerned about his concept of his fathers soul than their current relationship. It made me think about how oppressive angry tyrannical religious environments damage both people and whole communities and are kept in place through fear.

The relationships between women was interesting, in the way they both supported and conflicted with each other. The support was shown in the way that Kambali's Aunt treated her mother and the way she called her "My wife" which is a traditional form of address that a woman will call her sister in law to express her affection and acceptance of her place in the family. The development of the relationship between Kambali and her cousin  began with  deep divisions around class, about the fact that Kambali's family was far more wealthy and because of that in some ways was far more sheltered than her cousins. But eventually despite that the relationship between them became warm and close and supportive.

 There's a lot, lot more in this book especially touching on issues of masculinity and Kambali's sexual awakening which is real and complicated in a way that it often isn't in many books.

The edition I read was a P.S version so it had a profile of Adichie in the back and in it she talks about how important other Nigerian writers have been in her journey to become a writer

"Reading Achebe gave me permission to write about my world, he transported me to a past that was both familiar and unfamiliar, a past I imagined my great grandfather lived. Looking back, I realize that what he did for me at the time was validate my history, make it seem worthy in some way"

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