Sunday, January 26, 2014

Completed: Purple Hibiscus


I had a rare two-fer yesterday: I finished up the last 50 pages a ToBX book, The Tuner of Silences; then I started and completed my replacement January book, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 

As you know, my intended January book was Snow, but I was struggling with it. It was one of those books where the main character mostly wanders around and interacts with people, and sometimes those people tell their own stories, and then there's more wandering around. I found myself wanting something to happen! But I feel bad about it. I do know that they way a story gets told is different in other cultures, but in this case, I just wasn't in the right space. Usually, I will abandon books that aren't working for me, but I try to finish TBR books. I'm glad you encouraged me to move on. I wasn't enjoying it. And, I LOVED Purple Hibiscus

Funny story about Purple Hibiscus, which is written by the author of one of our 2013 favorites, Americanah. Last year, the chair of the English department was looking for new books for their global lit class for 10th graders. She asked me (because I read all. the. books.) if I knew of any books written by a non-Western author, set in another country, ideally featuring a female protagonist, and appropriate for early high school. In other words, the needle in the literary haystack. I thought about it for a minute and suggested they try Purple Hibiscus, which I had just bought but hadn't yet read. They ended up choosing it! Hah--I feel like one of my primary services to the upper school English department is my extensive book knowledge. 

Then last summer we both read and loved Americanah. Purple Hibiscus was on my TBR list, so I thought I should prioritize it, but my copy was making the rounds of the upper school English teachers. It fell off my radar again.  After Beyonce sampled Adichie on her new album (which is great, by the way) I decided to read it in December but I couldn't find it. Just last week when you encouraged me to quit Snow, I saw it in Darrell's car and actually said "A-ha!" out loud. Finally, the timing was right!

The novel is about a 15 year old girl in Nigeria, Kambili. She comes from a very wealthy and devoutly Catholic family. Her father owns a newspaper and several factories. She seems to have everything. However, Kambili's home is quiet and full of fear. Her father is obsessed with his vision of what it means to be a good Christian, and he's willing to beat obedience into his wife, son, and daughter. The story takes a turn with Kambili and her brother, Jaja, are allowed to visit their Aunt Ifeoma, a university professor who lives a few hours away. Suddenly, they see what it's like to live in a household full of light and laughter. 

I definitely enjoyed the book. It was a super fast and easy read, and although it's clear that Kambili's father is physically abusive, with a few notable (and upsetting) exceptions those scenes happen mostly off stage. We see the aftermath and the terrible toll the abuse has on the family, but this is not a book that feels the need to give long, in-depth descriptions of abuse. I think that's partly a feature of Kambili's first person narration. She doesn't know how to understand her father's abusive nature, and so she turns away from it. She loves him and she loves God, there's a part of her that does feel he is "right" even if she doesn't understand it.

There are other things about Eugene (that's the Dad) that make him a pretty interesting character. He's clearly a symbol of a certain type of African, one who embraces his colonizers. No one is more devout. He trusts the white priests over the Nigerian ones, and he prefers to speak English in a crisp British accent and frowns upon those who speak the native language, Igbo. His Catholicism is so rigid that he has cut off his father for being a heathen and refusing to convert. Eugene won't allow his children to see their grandfather for more than 15 minutes at a time or eat or drink anything from his home. He fears that the old, "heathen" ways will corrupt his children and perfect family.

The best parts of the book are with Aunty Ifeoma. Her home is poor, but she listens and teaches her children to question rather than to blindly obey. Kambili and especially Jaja change after spending more time with their family. It's a nice coming-of-age story.

I guess I'd say that I have 2 minor complaints. One, Kambili develops a crush on a Nigerian priest when she's with her aunt. Honestly, it just seemed super creepy and had an uncomfortable Thornbirds vibe to it. Ew. (By the way, I only watched part of that clip. It's *HIGH-LARIOUS*). At one point, her cousin makes fun of her crush and says, "Oh, all the girls in church have crushes on him. Even some of the married women. People have crushes on priests all the time, you know. It's exciting to have to deal with God as a rival" (220). I must say, that's a pretty funny line and probably has some truth in it. But still. Descriptions of the legs, arms, and chest of a priest? No thanks. LUCKILY, nothing happens, but it still was just kind of weird. I guess, given her religious upbringing, it makes a sort of sense. Meh.

Finally, there's sort of a shocking event at the very end that seems a little forced; and the way it plays out is very different from the rest of the book. In real life, sudden and surprising events do happen. But in a book, it's hard not to think the author was like, "How am I going to end this thing?" It wasn't terrible. We've discussed before how hard it is to stick the landing. It was a solid read and it was thought-provoking. I'd recommend it.




    Whew! Thanks for the chuckle! (Although it did remind me of a previous TBR book of mine, The Mermaid Chair and I re-read that review and laughed again!)

    Now that I'm done laughing... Purple Hibiscus sounds good. I sure did love that Americanah so I'm a fan of this author so far. Aaand... so glad it was better than Snow (which we have had a lot of these past few weeks... and I would welcome a purple hibiscus over snow right now quite gladly...)

  2. Our blog is now old enough that I have forgotten things (no surprise there!) and rereading that Mermaid Chair review is EVEN BETTER the second time around. "The thin line between the spiritual and the erotic" OMG. That's classic.

    Meanwhile back to the Thornbirds for a second. I basically watched the first 20 seconds "Get me out of this thing" which is AMAZING and then skimmed through using the useful youtube scanning feature. But then I saw the comment from the uploader "Here, Meggie and Ralph finally get together." I guess people were actually rooting for the priest to break his vows and make out with that chick? /shudder

    Those wacky '80s. I totally remember all the Moms being so into that. We were 10 when it came out. I guess looking back, Darius is going to say, "Yeah, I remember when my Mom and her best friend were so excited about the Veronica Mars movie coming out." Heh.