Ndêwó everyone !
After having been quite disappointed at the book I read for Mali last month, I could not leave Africa without a second try in my literary around the world trip, and that is why this time, I propose to you… Nigeria ! It has been a while since I decided that for this country, I would read a book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – actually since I heard of her feminist commitment (and of her essay Why We Should All Be Feminists). In parallel to the reading group #Faitesletourdumonde organized by Cassandra, I first planned to read Americanah, which is yet still waiting on my bookshelf. In fact, the more I read the synopsis and the reviews of Americanah, the less I felt like reading it now : that is why I finally chose Purple Hibiscus, the first novel of the author which is all set in Nigeria… and I am really glad I did ! Because this read has been amazing – both interesting and emotion-filled, and I am very happy that I had the chance to discover this author with such a piece.
Purple Hibiscus tells the story of Kambili, 15. Her world is limited to the luxurious house in Enugu, Nigeria, where she lives with her parents and her brother Jaja. Her father, Eugene, is a rich and influential man who leads his household according to rigorous principles. His generosity and political courage (he owns the only independent newspaper in the country) make him a true hero for his community. But Eugene is also a catholic fundamentalist, who organizes his children’s education as a sin hunt justifying the worst punishments. But when a military coup occurs in Nigeria, Eugene has to send Kambili and Jaja to their aunt’s house, where the two teenagers discover a totally different way to conceive family life. Surrounded by laughter and music, they learn to appreciate a simple life they thought was pagan and dangerous, and they open their eyes on the tyrannical behaviour of their father. So when they come back home, conflict cannot be avoided and the house becomes a battlefield on which the children will start rebelling to win their freedom.
Initiatory novel told through the voice of Kambili, Purple Hibiscus is simply impressive. Served by the fluid writing style of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the book tells us about intolerance and respect, domestic violence and love, and mostly about the emancipation of a girl who did not think she needed such a process. Raised under the strict management of a father who “governs” his home with an iron hand, Kambili cannot imagine living any other way… until she meets her aunt Ifeoma, politically active and welcoming, her cousin Amaka who laughs and talks without any fear, her cousin Obiora so responsible and culturally enlightened. How could she comprehend that this woman and these teenagers – Amaka is 15 like herself ! – can speak and express themselves so easily when she can barely open her mouth in public ? How could she envision a home where people sing while praying, when religion seems so severe under Eugene’s rule ? Through the novel, Kambili discovers and learns, about life but also about herself, starting to change her mind about her own lifestyle… and if her character is touching and profound, we can say the same for every other character. And that is what makes the book’s strength : from Beatrice, the mother who cannot subdue anymore, to Ifeoma who is a role model of a strong and independent woman, we can identify and understand every person, for their personalities are all plausible and well-developed.
Speaking about characters, Eugene is particularly remarkable of complexity and ambivalence. Far from being Manichean, he is a man who can earn our respect… to lose it in an instant and then arousing disgust and hate, because Eugene has more than one face. In public, he is that generous man, engaged for democracy and against the military coup, fervent advocate of press freedom… but in private, other personality traits become stronger and come to tarnish this prestige. Eugene sincerely loves his family, sure. And though he refuses to speak to his “pagan” father because of their religious differences, he beats his wife when he is angry, he terrorizes his children if they are not perfectly obedient and first at school… Exigent and uncompromising, he erects catholicism as a way of life, and refuses any false move. So when Jaja, Kambili’s older brother, refuses to go to church on Passion Sunday… everything seems to fall apart, and it is the beginning of the story.
Divided into three parts, the novel is based on this moment : the Palm Sunday first, on which everything changes, is described, then what happened before, and finally what happens after. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s style, fluid and visual, is loaded with Nigerian culture and let us read a lot of words from the Igbo dialect. In the background of this familial story, we can also discover some of the national history of the country : a multiethnic country with rich traditions, a country under a military government, oppressed if it tries to oppose. To say it in a few words, Purple Hibiscus has been a complete and captivating read, totally in the theme of 1 book | 1 country (there is a lot real Nigeria in there !) : I highly recommend !
> The next review will be about I, the Supreme, by Augusto Roa Bastos.
> NGOZI ADICHIE, Chimamanda – L’hibiscus pourpre, Anne Carrière – translated from English by Mona de Pracontal.
> written listening to “Arise Oh Compatriots, Nigeria’s Call Obey” .