Adichie’s acute and insightful portrayal of love and all of its complicated attachments makes for a novel raw in emotion and powerful in impact.
So our very first book group took place last night, for those of you not sure what I’m talking about I set up book group a few months ago now and despite a slow start things really started to pick up and last night myself and 8 other members of this new but growing book group turned up to discuss Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
The book was chosen by Ijeoma who, after reading and loving Half of a Yellow Sun, wanted to try Adichie’s debut novel. And that’s what we all did. Purple Hibiscus is one of those books that whilst it is on one hand tragic, devastating and heart breaking to read, it is on the other hand charming, emotionally provoking and full of warmth.
The story is told through the eyes of Kambili, a Nigerian girl living with her mother, brother Jaja, and religiously fanatical father Eugene. Whilst the community and local churches of his town feel the generosity and wealth of Eugene’s ambiguous contributions, Kambili, her mother and Jaja feel his more controlling and over bearing force. A devoted Catholic Eugene raises his children and controls his wife with a feverish passion and domineering force. Eugene plans everything in his children’s lives form study time, play time, everything, and it’s all written down on carefully planned out schedules. He has the keys to their rooms which they are only allowed in when he says so. He imposes round the clock praying and raises his family to feel the presence of God wherever they go, he is also a violent man. Kambili has however only ever known this life, and it’s not until Eugene’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma, convinces him to let the children come and stay with her for a holiday that Kambili finally starts to see life in a new light.
Aunty Ifeoma is the opposite of her brother, where he is restrained Aunty Ifeoma is happy. Her children, unlike the meek and shy Jaja and Kim are loud, energetic and full of opinions. Adichie describes the lightness, the love, and warmth of Aunty Ifemo’s home so well that I even found when reading the book that my spirits were lifted a little when we went to visit her. But for Kambili her stay at her aunts house with her brave and grown up cousins serves as a huge wake up call. Amaka, her female cousin mocks her for her spoilt ways, her lack of experience cleaning and working in the kitchen. Kambili marvels too at her cousin Obiora who is the man of the house. Kambili cannot believe they are the same age and yet so different.
We join Kambili on her journey of self learning and discovery and it’s here that we, like Kambili have our eyes opened to just how much her fathers tyranny has oppressed her. For me this was quite a personal and intimate journey for the reader to share with their heroine. When Kambili meets Father Amadi a local priest who wants to bring her out of her shell, she comes to realizes that she doesn’t know how to laugh or even smile. She stutters violently because she has always been so afraid of her own voice and has been raised to remain quiet. Now Kambili and Jaja must decide the people they want to be and whether or not they want to do that away from their overruling father, they must face the reality of the man their father is and the consequences of his beliefs.
The novel’s pace quickens towards the end and a number of dramatic twists heighten the tension of the book. I don’t want to say too much more though because I don’t wan to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t read the book yet.
I would like to share with you though a few of the thoughts and reactions that me and the other book group members discussed last night, this isn’t how I usually review books but so many interesting points were raised last night that I wanted to make this post a little different.
Book Groups Reaction… Firstly I should start by saying a bit about everyone else’s reaction, I personally enjoyed the book, which I think all of us did, but for a few of us, myself included thought the book wasn’t quite the epic that a, we had expected, or b, Half of the Yellow sun was. The general consensus was that most of us would recommend but as Danielle put it, it wouldn’t be the first book we would recommend if someone asked us what to read next. Interestingly Ijeoma and Simon both felt this book was the warming up almost for Half of a Yellow sun. Has anyone else read this book? would you agree?
A lot of us found Kambili’s mother quite frustrating because of her seemingly unending support of the father, the father who I think it’s safe to say we all had a hard time coming to terms with. Although we all had slightly different reactions to Eugene we all struggled with the moral implications of his actions, and I think Dave summed this all up really well when he sais ‘Is it possible to be a good man and beat your children and wife’? This is something we all pondered and the general idea was that Eugene wasn’t a senselessly nasty man, he was a deeply complex character, battling his own inner demons. Eugene clearly loves his children and his wife, but this love is complicated by his devotion to religion and his own violent childhood.
It was here that our opinions differed a little, I thought that perhaps Adichie should have added more depth to Eugene’s character and that the novel may have benefited from some memories of his childhood? We then went off course a little discussing whether or not a writer should give everything away, or leave a little to the imagination, which was what Rebecca and Simon believed. Clare also made the interesting point of whether or not Jaja actually turned into his father in the end? Again opinions were divided and this interesting notion left us all pondering the implications of Jaja’s childhood on the man he became.
I think it’s safe to say that we all loved the character of Aunty Ifeoma and found the visits to her home much needed light relief. Clare and I also seemed to share an appreciation for the peppering of cultural insights in the form of Igbo words and the detailed descriptions of food and the Nigerian land. Although a few people found the occasional Igbo words, which weren’t always explained, a little off putting.
Another interesting point which got us all going was the character of Papa Nnukwu who is Eugene’s father. Papa Nnukwa is the polar opposite of his son, unlike Eugene, a devote catholic, he has more traditional religious beliefs, which in his son’s eyes makes him a pagan and heathen; both deeply unforgivable choices to Eugene. This creates a strong tension in the book as Eugene fervently tries to keep his children away from their grandfather. The problem a few of us encountered was that with Papa Nnukwa being so lovely and kind, why did Eugene ever want to reject him and the traditional religion that he had being brought up with?
We bounced about a few idea’s about, some of us thinking that perhaps this was because Eugene wanted a better more enriched life and when he saw wealthy white Catholic’s he saw a way out? This seemed the most plausible explanation for why Eugene became the way he did, although we did considered that maybe Eugene was groomed in his childhood by the preists who raised him, groomed him into becoming such a devoted Catholic. However we didn’t all agree on the same idea’s and here lies the wonderful thing about book groups, they divide our opinions, test them and make us see books in new lights, or they reaffirm our original beliefs.
This was our fist book group and I just wanted to thank everyone who came, it was great to meet everyone. We’ve already decided on our next book which will be The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, have you read this book? Would you recommend it? We’ll be meeting up in 5 weeks to discuss this and if your in the Manchester area and would like to join it’s a more the merrier kind of group so please get in touch.
So have you read this book? What did you think of it and the points we raised? I’d love to hear your thoughts.