Monday, January 02, 2006

Purple Hibiscus

After reading Zadie Smith’s On Beauty over the Christmas holiday, I picked up Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, published 2003. It will be read by my book club in coming months. So I will try to avoid spoiling the story!

The author is Nigerian and tells a story of love and a country in turmoil set in her native land. The narrator is fifteen-year-old Kambili, who loves her father and God almost as one when the novel opens. In a few short months she will begin to find her voice, even if she says very little. The events in the novel happen to her and she reacts and begins to blossom much like the hibiscus flower.

Memorable Quotes
(page numbers from paperback edition)

“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. . . . 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.” (8)

“Jaja’s defiance seemed to me know like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant and with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.” (16)

Papa: “Because God has given you so much, he expects much from you. He expects perfection.” (47)

Papa-Nnukwe: “If I had meat in my soup,” Papa Nnukwu said, “I would offer it to you.” (65)

“The first time I heard Aunty Ifeoma call Mama “nwunye m” years ago, I was aghast that a woman called another woman “my wife.” When I asked, Papa said it was the remnants of ungodly traditions, the idea that it was the family and not the man alone that married a wife, and later Mama whispered, although we were alone in my room, “I am her wife, too, because I am your father’s wife. It shows that she accepts me.” (73)

“She said “teenagers” as if she were not one, as if teenagers were a brand of people who, by not listening to culturally conscious music, were a step beneath her. And she said “culturally conscious” in the proud way that people say a word they never knew they would learn until they do.” (118)

“Sometimes I imagined God calling me, his rumbling voice British-accented. He would not say my name right; like Father Benedict, he would place the emphasis on the second syllable rather than the first.” (179-180)

Amaka: “But what’s the point, then?” Amaka said to Father Amadi, as if she had not heard her mother. “What the church is saying is that only an English name will make your confirmation valid. ‘Chiamaka’ says God is beautiful. ‘Chima’ says God knows best, ‘Chiebuka’ says God is the greatest. Don’t they all glorify God as much as ‘Paul’ and ‘Peter’ and ‘Simon’?” (272) “His letters dwell on me.” (303)

“Amaka says that people love priests because they want to compete with God, they want God as a rival. But we are not rivals, God and I, we are simply sharing. I no longer wonder if I have a right to love Father Amadi; I simply go ahead and love him. I no longer wonder if the checks I have been writing to the Missionary Fathers of the Blessed Way are bribes to God; I just go ahead and write them. I no longer wonder if I chose St. Andrew’s church in Enugu as my new church because the priest there is a Blessed Way Missionary Father as Father Amadi is; I just go.” (303-304)

Burning Questions

Why does the author have Kambili draw the distinction between her brother’s defiance and the people’s defiance against a tyrannical government? (See above quote from page 16.) Aren’t they parallel narratives? Is Kambili too young to see this?

Did the father beat the mother and cause the first miscarriage mentioned on pages 32-33? I think that he did because the narrator recognizes the sounds and tries to imagine that it is something else. When the mother returns she claims it was “an accident” and then cleans her figurines. But the author does leave it somewhat unclear. Even if the father didn’t cause the miscarriage (which seems unlikely if he wants more children), he still comes across as a monster when he prays for the mother’s forgiveness.

Did Jaja know that his mother was poisoning his father? It seems that he did (at least after the fact and before Kambilis knows, because he refused to drink out of the cups from his family’s home.) (p. 289)

Useful Links
Reading Group Guide
Interview with Author


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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