Saturday, July 21, 2007

Purple Hibiscus

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an award winning writer of contemporary literature. Her first book Purple Hibiscus is set in Nigeria during a time of political upheaval. Her book explores contemporary Nigerian life and follows a rich and religious family, through an unusual situation of abuse by a very strict and authoritarian dad, who is also a rich businessman and paradoxically, a conscientious employer.

It isn't that abuse is unusual in W. Africa but the reaction of the opressed wife is what is somewhat unusual. Even though she micarries several pregnancies through this man's heavy handed abuse, she covers for her husband and pretends it doesn't happen. Secrecy of this nature is not so common even within the more westernized suburban homes of the nouveaux riches of Africa. Or is it?

Chimamanda tells her story in the soft first person voice of fifteen year old Kambili, a nervous young girl, whose inner voice has been hushed until it is a mere whisper in the continuing noise of her father's superfluous devotion to the Catholic church, his conflicted love for his family and his strange and deviant ways of punishment. A visit to an aunt provides them with a new view of the twin cultures of contemporary and traditional Nigeria and releases them gradually from the silences they have kept inside the high walls of their father's house.

This book sings of freedom and a coming of age. It adresses the nature of the issues of our lives which are never black and white, but all kinds of conflicted greys, which we encounter as we try to negotiate the often layered and intersecting paths of love for family, loyalty, choice, tradition and responsibilty. Chimamanda's prose is engaging. Her setting comes alive before my eyes, making me smell frangipanis in my fledgling North American garden. She is understated for an African, while the story flows out easily, compelling the reader to follow her closely throughout the journey of this family. She has achieved excellence on her first novel and promises more. Her second book, "Half of a Yellow Sun" is on my table waiting to be devoured.

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