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Purple Hibiscus (thoughts)

June 24, 2008

Orbis Terrarum ChallengeOriginally, my Orbis Terrarum itinerary had me going from Egypt directly to South Africa. But when I saw a chance to take a sidetrip to Nigeria with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, I jumped for it! Last year, I read Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie’s second, Orange Prize winning, novel, and loved it. Ever since, I’m been meaning to read her debut, but my various libraries didn’t carry it. Fortunately, my shiny new library system did, and I immediately put it on hold, only to have to impatiently wait to climb up to the top of the list.

isn't she gorgeous?  I wish I could pull off a turban like that!Here’s what’s funny about Adichie: when I hear the subject matter of her novels, I’d never in a million years read it. Half of a Yellow Sun dealt with a devastating civil war, and Purple Hibiscus deals with an abusive father. But somehow in Adichie’s hands, these topics that I usually avoid, become beautiful and irresistable. I think it helps that she obviously loves Nigeria a lot, and puts a very strong sense of place into her storytelling. She sprinkles Igbo, one of the tribal languages, throughout Purple Hibiscus (never enough to make things incomprehensible, though), which is one of my favourite novel-set-in-foreign-countries devices. She also really brings everyday life in Nigeria to the reader by discussing each sense, so you’ll have an idea of the tastes, sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the country. It’s just wonderful.

Purple Hibiscus is essentially a coming-of-age story. Our narrator, Kambili (stress on the first syllable) is a fourteen-year-old girl used to doing everything her father tells her. However, over the course of several months, she’s exposed to different ways of life and thinking that lead her to question her own lifestyle. Meanwhile, her older brother is having the same experience, only more extreme, and his new decisions begin to destroy the family (this all comes out in the prologue, so I’m not giving anything away). I don’t really want to go into more details, because I didn’t know anything going in and it was wonderful to see the story unfold (I couldn’t stop reading it). Suffice it say, all of the characters feel like real people; no one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs here. And Adichie’s style is just lyrical, as well as seeming perfectly like a fourteen-year-old girl. I don’t know how she does it, but she has the perfect touch for poignancy.

It’s funny; sometimes my favourite books are the ones I have the least to say about. So really, all I have is this: go read it. You’ll be happy you did.

Do you have a favourite international author, who through their descriptions really brings a country to life? Who?

Favourite Passages
Papa sat down at the table and poured his tea from the china tea set with pink flowers on the edges. I waited for him to ask Jaja and me to take a sip, as he always did. A love sip, he called it, because you shared the little things you loved with the people you loved. Have a love sip, he would say, and Jaja would go first. Then I would hold the cup with both hands and raise it to my lips. One sip. The tea was always too hot, always burned my tongue, and if lunch was something peppery my raw tongue suffered. But it didn’t matter, because I knew that when the tea burned my tongue, it burned Papa’s love into me.

She spoke the way a bird eats, in small amounts.

But I told the doctor it was as bad as before and I screamed when he tried to feel my side. I did not want to leave the hospital. I did not want to go home.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. June 24, 2008 10:51 am

    Ah, I LOVE Adiche’s novels. She is a wonderful writer and I will read everything she writes! Glad you loved this one too.

  2. June 24, 2008 10:54 am

    This author is on my TBR list. I’m with you. Sometimes all I want to say is, “You just have to read this!” Otherwise, I may get carried away and just tell the whole story. ;-)

    Have a great day, Eva!
    Lezlie

  3. June 24, 2008 1:34 pm

    One of my favorites from Africa is a book called Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga.

    From paperbackswap.com: This stunning first novel, set in colonial Rhodesia during the 1960s, centers on the coming of age of a teenage girl, Tambu, and her relationship with her British-educated cousin Nyasha. Tambu, who yearns to be free of the constraints of her rural village, especially the circumscribed lives of the women, thinks her dreams have come true when her wealthy uncle offers to sponsor her education. But she soon learns that the education she receives at his mission school comes with a price.

    I’d give it five out of five stars.

  4. June 24, 2008 2:19 pm

    I really really want to read this one. And I know what you mean about not having much to say about a favourite book.

  5. June 24, 2008 3:38 pm

    I really, really loved Half of a Yellow Sun. I’ve been meaning to seek out her first novel, and now you’ve clinched it–I’ve really got to read it! Thanks :)

  6. adevotedreader permalink
    June 24, 2008 10:47 pm

    I loved Half of a yellow sun as well, so am glad to hear Purple hibiscus is so good. I’ve got it in my TBR pile, so must read it soon.

  7. June 25, 2008 2:16 am

    I read this when I first come out and can still recall the bath scene vividly

  8. June 25, 2008 6:18 am

    Funny you should mention this one. I hadn’t heard too much about it (how, I don’t know) until a couple of weeks ago. The other person on my conference panel gave a paper on it! Must get hold of it.

  9. June 25, 2008 10:04 am

    I have Half a Yellow Sun on my TBR pile–I might have to bump it up to the top. And now I think I’ll have to get Purple Hibiscus as well!

  10. June 26, 2008 7:37 am

    I liked this one even more than Half of a Yellow Sun.

  11. June 26, 2008 10:47 am

    Wendy, I agree! I totally want to buy PH and HoaYS now: I checked both of them out of libraries to read. My shelves are missing their Adichie, hehe.

    Lezlie, yeah: especially when I didn’t know much about the story going in, I kinda want to leave others with a blank slate! You have a great day too. :D

    C.B., I read that book my freshman year of college, and it was great! Unfortunately, I read it for a class all the freshman had to take, and one of the girls on my floor anonymously borrowed my copy when it was in the common room and didn’t return it. :(

    Nymeth, isn’t it frustrating? lol

    Gentle Reader, yay!

    ADevotedReader, I wish I owned a copy: very jealous. :)

    Katrina, yeah: the bath scene was definitely one of those that sticks in your mind. And I thought Adichie handled it perfectly!

    Andi, I bet that was an interesting paper!

    Danielle, yay! They’re very different as far as structure and ‘theme,’ but you can totally tell they’re by the same author because of the great characters and descriptions, lol.

    Dew, I think I did too!

  12. June 26, 2008 1:06 pm

    I’ve got both this and Half of a Yellow Sun on my wish list…sounds like I really need to move them up towards the top!

  13. June 27, 2008 5:42 pm

    This book is one of my top ten novel favourites. Totally can’t get enough of Adichie.

  14. June 27, 2008 7:02 pm

    Debi, you totally do!

    Imani, I agree: I hope she releases a new novel soon. :)

  15. June 29, 2008 5:31 am

    Out of all the new authors I read last year, she topped the list. I love her books, even though you’re right, the subject matter does not lend itself well to being ‘loved’!

  16. June 30, 2008 8:38 am

    Alisia, she’s definitely a new favourite of mine!!

  17. July 8, 2008 4:45 pm

    I just finished Half of a Yellow Sun and I thought it was amazing! On to Purple Hibiscus!

  18. imma Anthony permalink
    January 19, 2009 4:43 am

    Please i need a fully discuss on the major themes of this novel “Purple Hibiscus

  19. imma Anthony permalink
    January 19, 2009 4:51 am

    if found any please it to my e-mail box, because some member of the literature broad are on it in my state.

    Thank to any who provides it for me

    I love you Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  20. Nnamani Chiemerie permalink
    September 2, 2009 7:22 am

    Purple Hibiscus questions vices that are considered good; in the churches, and the nation at large. The comedy of the novel is that Kambili afterall, started laughing, had freedrom fom child abuse, freedom to be, to choose. to do… It is a novel I read over and over again. From it, I get inspiration.

  21. Aihie Precious permalink
    May 6, 2011 5:58 am

    the novel is nice and i am happy the way it ended even though i despirately wanted Jaja out before it ended but its wonderful.

    would love to get the style of purple Hibiscus please?

  22. July 10, 2011 3:32 pm

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel,Purple Hibiscus, is indeed a masterpiece.It is quite a fascinating story with well developed themes that are relevantly contemporary.As well,it is enormously rich in style and devices.

  23. Nephitaly Benister permalink
    December 14, 2011 2:35 am

    in what dimension of feminist theory would you rate Purple Hibiscus’ main character?

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