Disclaimer: I am totally incapable of reviewing this terrific book so do not go by my review. I just want to say two things: One, this isn’t for the faint-hearted and Two, No one and I mean No ONE should miss this at any cost as it is our own life told by someone else from some other part of the world thats all. I could so much identify with the whole story so very well.
My first Chimamanda Adichie Book and I am totally bowled over by the way she has put this story across from a teenager’s point of view of life in Nigeria around mid to late 70’s I believe. I mentioned on someone’s review of the same book that I am looking forward to it and a terrific friend gifted me not one but two Chimamanda Books (Americanah is the other one). I was totally floored by the gesture and the speed with which they came to and God bless these friends, they are my life as the miser me is on a book buying break for now (till July at least). I recently read a book with story based in Afghanistan and instantly fell in love with the country, its people, their traditions, language and so much more. Now this became a first of its own kind of book based in Nigeria (Africa), as I have never read one on that country and it was quite an amazing sneak peak. Co-incidentally I saw “Black Panther” last week only, a fantastic movie based out of South-Africa with so much of African culture and stuff thrown in, totally loved that too. It sort of helped in making me understand this story, the words they spoke, the names, the visuals and so much more that I was totally amazed. Especially the way they pronounced names and those one words meaning a lot, I had a jolly good time reading them again and again as they should be called out 🙂 it was simply too good. My own Nigerian connection is that an Uncle of mine worked there as a Prof. long back and he used to tell us so many tid-bits of a Nigerian life back then as exactly that was the time even this story was taking place.
The story is told by a teenaged girl “Kambili”, who belongs to an upper class family, her dad (Eugene) is a devout Catholic, super strict about everything (almost like Hitler, exactly like my dad). He owns the biggest news paper of the time and have some fruit juice factories and all that. Now, judging Eugene’s character is a tough cookie, he is good, he is great, he is awesome, almost God like for people he cares about and helps a lot too. But he turns a villain at times when it comes to religion being followed by his own kith and kin, especially his own daughter, son, wife and Dad (who is a non believer) or his poor sister who works in the university as a lecturer (Terrific parallel track, almost better than the original). The story is told from two angles, the super rich angle of Kambili’s family and their luxurious life verses her Aunt “Ifeona’s”, a widow with three kids Kambili’s age. How things turn from one side to another is what makes up for an amazing yet simple down to earth story. Whereas the country is going through economic turmoil and is on the verge of civil war of sorts in the 70’s. I said this isn’t for the faint hearted as the way Eugene treats his children when they “Sin” as per him and the punishments that they go through. It was a piece of cake for me as our Dad wasn’t any different, a devout Hindu who would take off his “Kolhapuri Chappal” at ease when we didn’t qualify for a scholarship just like Kambili comes second in class and her dad takes off his leather belt, later cries himself but that doesnt change anything. The way her brother Jaja defies their dad by not being a part of communion and the price he pays reminded me of my own brother who walked out of the “thread ceremony” and Dad declared that my brother will not be a part of his funeral till he wears the thread 🙂 (he still doesn’t) and what Jaja does for his parents, later in return, is what you need to read about.
Life of Kambili and Jaja (her brother) and in comparison to them life of their cousins life in a nearby small town are so contrasting yet it is nobody’s guess where the life is better or which side has more more love flowing around. It was terrific to read from the her point of view and I was totally bowled over, by the way she puts it forward. No judgments, no right or wrongs, just the way things happen. For me, the winner of this story and the character who I totally fell in love with is Aunt Ifeona and her philosophy of life. Especially the way she handle’s her life with three kids on toe and an ageing father in law too to take care at times and no secure well paying job. You’ve really got to read the book to know why Eugene who stands up for everyone needing help doesn’t comes to his own sister’s rescue and how it all ends. And for the little heart-touching love story of little Kambili too which was so amazing and the Purple Hibiscus connection. The book does leaves a couple of questions unanswered but I guess that is exactly what Chimamanda wanted to do with this story, to leave so much food for our thoughts and she achieves it in great style.
Another thing that on and off keeps coming back to my mind after reading so many books from earlier 20th century to the second half is “America is a country full of refugees?” Almost every book, every story whenever whoever is running from his own past seeks an asylum in United States and they did oblige them (not anymore I believe).
If you have read this one, do let me know how it worked for you or not. And if you haven’t, you better get it like NOW and read it soon. I am looking forward big time to “Americanah” now as I have it already.