Monday, February 8, 2010

Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I've seen Adichie hailed as Nigeria's greatest writer since Chinua Achebe - author of Things Fall Apart. So, it's only appropriate that her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, starts out, "Things began to fall apart..." What follows is the story of 15 year old Kamibili, the daughter of a wealthy, fanatically religious and much respected man in her Nigerian city. Growing up under the watchful eye of her visciously abusive father, Kambili's sense of self is nearly non-existent. She yearns to win her his elusive acceptance, but finds herself mesmerized by her younger brother's defiance. When Kambili's aunt takes an interest in the children, they move out to join her in the country for a short time. There, Kambili finds herself confronted with her privilege, while also struggling to discover the meaning of independence. As with Adichi's later works, Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck, the writing in this novel is beautifully captivating. Kambili is tremendously damaged, and Adichi manages to write the novel from a first-person perspective that conveys the pain of her warped perceptions, while still allowing the reader to understand the view of the various other characters in the book. There is a particularly interesting and dangerous relationship between Kambili and and a young local priest. He is clearly Kambili's first infactuation and he encourages her to be free and enjoy life. The purpose of their seemingly inappropriate relationship is unclear, though perhaps just another example of an adult in Kambili's life with blurry boundaries. Whatever the case, Kambili's coming of age story is filled with tremendous pain, confusion, and the wonder of discovery - all told in Adichie's powerful and very enjoyable voice.

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