Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a book club book, chosen when I stood up to powers of books about World War II and demanded a non-war book. Well, I guess I should have been more clear in my expectations because while this was not specifically a book about war, it's not exactly a peaceful book, either.

Purple Hibiscus, published in 2005, so don't give me any guff about spoilers, is a coming-of-age novel (bildungsroman!) of a girl growing up in an abusive household in Nigeria, filled with references to local foods, customs, and civil unrest while maintaining vivid details of what it's like to grow up in a household in which your every move can be the difference between safety and bloodiness.  Not exactly a humorous romp to finish our summer book club books, I tell you.
I, for my part, have not read much African literature. I tend to stick to European and American authors in a way that I acknowledge is problematic. Some of the more knowledgeable members of my book club mentioned that Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe as a sort of prequel to Purple Hibiscus, but I have not done that. Maybe I would have enjoyed the book more if I had done more homework on Nigeria.

I did enjoy the descriptions of the food, vegetation, and clothing in this novel. I really could feel like I was there. I had to look up so much as I was reading it, though, that I think my experience would have been greatly improved if I had read it on my Kindle. It's great that I know what fufu, onugbu, and moi-moi are and I'll someday be able to drop in religious terms like deuterocanonical, missal, oblate, and soutane into casual conversation, but having to stop every other paragraph to look up words and jot definitions onto a sticky note did not necessarily make for a convenient reading experience.

Otherwise I thought this novel was fine. The story wasn't particularly innovative or interesting and I thought it was revealing that our book club spent all of twenty minutes talking about the book and then spent an hour and a half laughing at the marginalia in one of the library copies of the book floating about the room that included a variation of a perverted poem about a centaur. So good times were had at book club, but not so much to say about the book.

I don't know if I would recommend this book unless you're super interested in how colonialism continues to manifest itself negatively in former colonies, Nigerian food, or class differences within families. Otherwise, you might want to find something else.

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