Saturday, March 22, 2008

Coming of Age Story

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


After I read Half of a Yellow Sun, I saw a few reviews that compared Adichie to Chinua Achebe (including the back of this novel).  I read Things Fall Apart in high school, so I had a hard time seeing the connection (partially due to lack of familiarity with Achebe, partially due to an inability to remember the novel very well).  I actually thought that comparison was more obvious and accurate in this novel.  It appears to take place in the '90s after a military coup (I checked Wikipedia first, and then found this site to confirm my suspicions - she writes of the death of a reporter in the novel and I had assumed that was the real name -Nwankiti Ogechi - but even that was fictionalized).  The coup served as a backdrop to the rest of the novel, which focused on a much more personal story.


As the story progresses, the narrator, Kambili, begins to question her upbringing, and become more independent.  In the beginning, she worships her strict father.  We soon learn that her father is not only strict, but abusive and fanatically religious.  His beatings have induced miscarriages upon his wife, and he is quick to punish his family for what he sees as wrong-doings (for example, he beats his wife for having to be asked more than once to go into the minister's house when she was feeling naseuous).  He is intolerant of different beliefs and has even cut off contact to his father because his father holds on to the old religion.  His children have a daily schedule and are expected to be first in their class - he doesn't care that his controlling all their time leaves them no time to develop friendships, and actually earns them ridicule as "snobs."  Kambili and her brother Jaja visit their liberal aunt's family, and through interacting with these relatives, they begin to question their own lives and enjoy themselves and new freedoms.


The reason I felt this novel seemed more reminiscent of my faint recollections of Things Fall Apart, is that in both there is the struggle between new and old, and the intolerance of certain religious-minded.  They also both showed very controlling patriarchs that took things too far and felt it was their right and duty to discipline their families.  Still, I am curious if people simply compared these two authors because they are from the same country so it was just easy.  It's not as if these two authors are the only to explore these themes, though there are probably comparatively fewer that set them in Nigeria.  I can't wait to see what else Adichie will write - I enjoyed both her novels and hope there will be more.
The idea of the incredibly strict religious patriarch also reminded me of The Poisonwood Bible but in Purple Hibiscus, everyone in the community loved and admired the father, while in The Poisonwood Bible, the people he came to convert see him as the prejudiced tyrant he is.  The difference, of course, is that Eugene, Kambili's father, tries to do good for the community, while the father of The Poisonwood Bible is a missionary that looks down on the black community he came to spiritually lead and help.

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