books · PGY-3

Book #4: Purple Hibiscus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been on my to-read list for ages. I’ve had Americanah on my library Hold list for months. (I should just buy it outright, because after reading her first novel as a “consolation prize,” I can tell that this writer is going to be a keeper.)

Purple Hibiscus is a coming-of-age story in modern Nigeria, with themes of violence both domestic and national, religious influence, and family. POV is a teenage girl from a rich family, losing innocence and gaining some degree of awareness of the larger world. Structured very well indeed; you could almost map out the physical journey between city and country as a surrogate for the emotional journey she takes. The voice is excellent; it’s a real challenge to write a character on the border between childhood and adulthood, both in terms of the language as well as avoiding heavy handed flashbacks.

On a nerd level, I kind of loved that the opening line is “Things began to fall apart…” — clear allusion to probably the most famous Nigerian novelist in the Western world, Chinua Achebe.  I, like most former literature students, read Things Fall Apart in college, where it was presented as a colonial answer to Heart of Darkness. I remember at the time thinking it was much richer than that, but I’ve never gone back to it. Perhaps I should. In this novel, like that one, Nigeria the country, the land, is very much a character in itself. Purple Hibiscus intersects with the Nigeria of Chinua Achebe, giving us a contemporary world, where Achebe’s was historical (written in the 1950s but set a half-century earlier), and a domestic focus where Achebe was more nationalistic (again, that might have been the lens the professor was using).

The thing with this project is that every book I read opens up to at least three others. It’s like a fractal tree!

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