Book Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I reviewed Adichie's second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, last year when I was working at the BAM book/merch kiosk (review HERE). I picked it up on one of those days when I was working a double and had finished the book I was reading and needed something to pass the time. As you can see from my review, I fell in love with the story and her prose, and couldn't wait to read her first novel and her collection of short stories. It took me a year to get back to her, because I am terrible with keeping up to date on my reading lists (if you saw the pile of books waiting to be read next to my bed you would understand), and because I only remembered to buy her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, when I read a review on the release of her third novel, Americanah.

I don't usually start a book with the feeling that it may not be as good as I am hoping it to be, but I did with this one, seeing as I had read her second novel before her first, and how much of a mark it had left on my brain and my heart. I couldn't have been more wrong. Adichie had definitely already found her voice before she started writing Purple Hibiscus, and the prose is just as stunning and sublime as it was in Half of a Yellow Sun. From here on out I shall stop comparing, as although both novels are set in Nigeria, that is where the resemblances end.

Purple Hibiscus is set in post-colonial Nigeria, and revolves around the home of Kambili, the narrator, a quiet, shy and studious 15 year old girl, her older brother Jaja, her father Eugene and her mother Beatrice. With the backdrop of a military coup and military crackdowns and the beginnings of uprisings in the country, we see Kambili's small world grow while she herself comes to terms with her problems at home, and those of the country she lives in. Eugene is wealthy and well-respected in the community, aiming to give his family the best education and life that he can, as well as helping those around him. But he is also a religious zealot and a tyrant at home, with a violent temper and prone to doling out harrowing punishments that make your heart hurt. When Eugene's sister, Ifeoma, persuades him to let her take Kambili and Jaja to stay with her in her town for a week, the children both learn of a world outside of theirs that is bigger and more complicated than they can ever expect, which in turn leads them both to question their own lives and how their father wants them to live them.

At times beautiful, at times horrific, Purple Hibiscus draws you into a world that is so different, but at the same time so similar, and wraps itself around you tightly. Once you have Kambili's voice inside your head you are loathe to let her go, even after you have turned the last page and there are no more words. There are times where I just wanted to shake her and say "speak up, let your voice be heard!", and then would remember myself at her age, and how I often found it impossible to say anything out of fear of being heard. I love Adichie's character development skills - her characters are always so real and so human, never black or white or one-sided, but colourful and full of emotion. This novel is so harrowing and so beautiful it will remain with you well after you have finished it.

After chatting to one of my friends about how I loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's work last night, she sent me an interview she had come across not so long ago in the New York Times. I can't wait to read Americanah (and will do once it is out in paperback - I find hardbacks too heavy to carry around and too annoying to bulky in bed), and this interview just really emphasized why I love this amazingly talented author so much.

Ramblings: Nicholas D. Kristof, Sudan and Intervention

 Every so often I get up on my soapbox and talk about certain things in this world that really, really bother me. I suppose “every so often” is really a euphemism, seeing as I rant about things to anyone who will listen, and also to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis. I try to read about everything that is going on and then get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of atrocities that are happening in this world that we live in on a continuous basis. I often feel like a fraud, because all I am doing is reading and writing and talking about all these things, and that’s not enough. I want to go to these places, DO something. Talking about it just isn’t enough, because I can talk and talk about it, but in the end what is it going to do? Maybe a few people will listen and agree with me, maybe a few others will listen and disagree, but in the end it will all fall amidst the deep well of other stories and articles that are forgotten, while, in the meantime, whatever I am talking about continues to happen on a daily basis.

This is exactly why I admire people like Nicholas D. Kristof. He goes to places that are the furthest away from paradise and reports back to us on what is going on there. He takes photos and videos and uses his power as a celebrated journalist to show us the realities of what is going on in places like Sudan and Uganda and China and Haiti, as well as right here at home in the US. The man covers topics such as sex trafficking, bullying, starvation, civil war, bombings, death, massacres, hope, love and revolution in any place that he can find it. He doesn’t seem to be phased by obstacles that are thrown in his path – just recently he snuck through the Sudanese border to report on the fate of the Sudanese people hiding in the Nuba mountain region from their own government’s regular bombing campaigns on them. On top of dodging the bombs that are trying to wipe them out, these people are literally starving, living off leaves and insects. Many of them do not have the energy to make the long (and dangerous) trek to the refugee camp that is across the border in South Sudan, so they are stuck in the mountains, hoping that something will change before they all starve. Click HERE to see Kristof’s most recent article on the plight of these people who are stuck watching their children starve away. 

For those who thought that the problems in Sudan ended last year when the territory was divided into two separate countries were wrong. It was a good step towards a better life for those living in the South, but nothing has really changed for those living in the South Kordofan region, the only region in North Sudan where oil can be found. When a country is divided into two there will always be a part of the population who suddenly finds themselves in the wrong country, and this is a prime example of this happening. South Kordofan is the home of many pro-south communities who now find themselves being governed (and terrorized) by the Northern government. Foreign aid has been restricted to the area and humanitarian groups have been expelled, leaving the population to fend for itself, with next to nothing to eat. So what can be done? Kristof calls upon Obama to step in and do something, but what exactly can he, or we, do? There has been conflict in Sudan for so many years now, conflict that nobody really cared about until it had been going on for years (see The Devil Came on Horseback, a terrifying documentary of one man’s mission to show the world what was going on in Darfur). When it comes to a country that doesn’t really have much to offer the western world it is easy to turn a blind eye and figure that they will just sort it all out themselves. I agree that some kind of intervention needs to happen, but not the type of intervention that involves sending US troops yet again into another country. Intervention should happen in the manner of world leaders getting together and putting enough pressure on the North Sudanese government in order to stop the bombings, and to let aid groups back into the affected region and feed the starving people. How can this be done? It’s not like Sudan is the only place in the world where the government is killing people (Syria for example) or where famine is taking its toll on an entire population. It’s not the only place where people are leaving their homes with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and trekking across borders to refugee camps, not knowing if they will ever make it back home again (DRC). There are still countries in this world where conditions are so dire that many people don’t make it past the age of 40 (Mozambique, Swaziland for example – taken from the UN World Populations Prospect, 2006 revision), and that’s if they even make it through childhood. So what makes it more important for us to intervene in one country and not another? Should we intervene? 

From a global view I can’t answer that question without asking a bunch of other questions. From a personal view I think we should intervene, in the most pacifistic of manners. We don’t need to go stomping into another country, guns ablaze, to settle a conflict that is not our own, or that really doesn’t have anything to do with us. But we do need to HELP people who are being murdered for no other reason than because someone said they should be killed. We don’t need to find political reasoning for this type of intervention, or even financial gain, we should just do it for humanitarian reasons. It’s as simple as that – no one needs, or wants, another Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, where one country goes into another country under the flag of “democracy” with the aim of installing a law that may or may not be wanted. But other countries DO need the help of those whose lives are better off. This is the reason why the UN exists – exactly to avoid the types of atrocities that happened during WW2. Since then we have seen acts of genocide in many countries that have been allowed to go on before anyone tried to intervene (Rwanda, Yugoslavia, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Darfur). We all have our own opinions of what is right or wrong, and they will all differ from person to person, but there is nothing to justify the murder of children, or the use of children as soldiers. Right? If anyone disagrees with that I invite you to explain why. 

Kristof asks Obama to put pressure on Khartoum, and I agree with this. But the only way that one can put pressure on one government to put pressure on another is by constantly bringing it up. I admire Kristof for not only his reporting, but also for his constant reminders to the world that the situation in Sudan still exists and that people are going to continue to die until someone on the outside does something about it. I may have really bad credit and work 7 days a week, but I live in a place where I am relatively safe, and do not need to worry about where my next meal or glass of clean water is going to come from. The least I can do is talk about people who don’t have these things that we take for granted. The very least.
Kristof writes columns that appear twice a week in the New York Times and you can find them online HERE. He has an ongoing competition that is open to students and people over the age of 60 to join him on a journalistic adventure to another country. I wish I were part of one of those groups because it has been a dream of mine for a while to go to Sudan or the Congo or even Syria and to report back on what I see happening with my own eyes, words and images. 

More information:
For a very in-depth study on Sudan you can read Mahmood Mamdani’s book entitled Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror
It’s not an easy read, and you may not agree with everything he brings up, but it provides a lot of insight into the country and the issues that have been ongoing for years.

For a very moving true story from three Lost Boys of Sudan you can read They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng and Benjamin Ajak (my review can be read HERE)

For Nicholas D. Kristof’s columns you can go to the NYT website HERE

Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I love that moment when you read the first sentence of a book and you know that you are immediately hooked. Your eyes widen, your hands clench the book a little tighter and you feel yourself sinking into the words... That's exactly the way I felt when I opened Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I love historical fiction and I am particularly interested in recent African history at the moment, so the fact that this book caught my eye is a no-brainer, but there is SO much more to it than that (more about that a bit further down).

Half of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria in the early and late 60's, before, during and a little after the civil war that ensued after Biafra attempts to secede from the rest of the state of Nigeria. Adichie takes us from the independence from Great Britain in 1960, through the military coups that follow, the rising ethnic clashes and violence (specifically against the Igbo) and resulting secession and declaration of independence of Biafra and it's struggle to survive amidst a civil war that breaks out. We follow the story through the eyes and words of five very strong characters: Ugwu, a houseboy who comes to work for the revolutionary university professor Odenigbo; Odenigbo's lover, the beautiful and well-educated Olanna; Olanna's twin sister Kainene; and Kainene's lover Richard, the Englishman who makes his way to Nigeria to write about Igbo art, and falls in love with both the country and Kainene.The story weaves through these characters lives and portrays an image of life in Nigeria before the war: the passion of the Igbo and the creation of their own state, the interactions with life in the villages, life within the urban middle-class and the remaining British ex-pats who keep themselves away from the Nigerian population, hanging on to what is left of the colony days. Adichie provides us with a beautiful story of love, hatred, war, death and humanity (as well as inhumanity).

There is no need to be interested in African history to enjoy this novel, although if you are it is definitely a must-read. Adichie's prose is pretty much sublime in my opinion - she builds such a passionate story line, and develops her characters so intensely well that you are standing there with them all the way, hurting when they hurt, laughing when they laugh, falling in love when they fall in love. My favourite character (after much deliberation) is Ugwu, the young boy who becomes an indispensable part of the family that hires him. I also love Olanna's fierce independence that is coupled with her fear of losing everything she loves... Each character is completely human, imperfect and real, I feel like there is a part of everyone in all of them. There are many difficult parts, specifically the descriptions of massacres, rape, death and starvation, but all are important in understanding the complexity of the situation and the passion of the people to be free of outside, controlling power.

I cried a lot reading this book, and it probably wasn't a good idea to finish it on my subway ride back home last night, with tears running down my face; and many a time I felt like I was being punched in the stomach, but all the same, I couldn't stop reading. I could literally see and smell the country through the words, and this is something that I admire so much in a writer - the ability to really create a world that I have never seen before right before my eyes. Adichie is only a year older than me, and I feel like she has created a beauty of a novel, set in very disturbing times. I can't wait to read her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and her collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. So very inspiring.

More information:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's website

Field of Hope - Witness (Al Jazeera)

I'm not asking you to imagine this, because I am sure you can't. Just think about it: your mum was raped at 15 and gave birth to you. At 15 you yourself are raped, and give birth to a child. This isn't a one-off situation, but most women around you have been raped at least once, and have also become pregnant through rape. What do you do?! In the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo around 48 women are raped every hour. Do the maths - it's horrific.
In Field of Hope, Al Jazeera's Witness focuses on Masika, a multiple rape survivor who has made it her job to help, support, counsel and even show other women rape survivors how to make an independent living through farming.

Go the Al Jazeera website (see hyperlinks above) for the screening times. Watch it - and TALK about it.


Wanuri Kahiu

I recently read an interview with Wanuri Kahiu in the 51st Edition of Bitch Magazine. What an inspiration! Wanuri is a 30 year old Kenyan woman, who went to university in England and the US, and then went back home to Nairobi to become a hugely promising filmmaker. Here first two pieces of work, From A Whisper, based on dealing with loss and forgiveness 10 years after the US Embassy bombing in Nairobi) and Pumzi, a short sci-fi film based in a world after World War III, have already been critically acclaimed with awards and glowing reviews. I'm really excited for the release of her next piece of work, Ger, a documentary based on the return home to Sudan of former child soldier who became an actor and model, Ger Duany.

Here is a link to the whole article: "The Africa That I Know" in Bitch Magazine
I love her response to the inevitable "why didn't you stay in the US?" question: "From the moment I entered UCLA, I knew what kind of filmmaker I wanted to be. I wanted to make films to take back home. Or films about people back home. And when I tried to write when I was in America, I inevitably found myself writing about films or about characters that were very, very African. So it just didn't make sense for me to stay."

Some more links:
Wanuri Kahiu's Blog
Pumzi trailer on YouTube
From A Whisper trailer on YouTube
Ger Duany

Helping at home VS Helping abroad

Something else that has been bothering me over the past few days... For any of you who read my blog and/or my Twitter feed know that I am very much aware of what is going on in this world, always strive to learn and understand more, and am pretty focused on what is happening in different African countries and want to help create a better life for people who literally have nothing right now, and whose children have nothing. There is a severe need for not only reactive response (emergency aid for war and famine victims), but also proactive response (education, political stability, safety etc etc). I'm not saying that throwing money to all different types of organisations is the answer, but there are many actions one can take to help, that don't actually cost money (or very little at all). I've posted a lot of links below.

I usually ask people the question "so what are YOU doing", and hope that this will raise some type of awareness. The other day I asked someone this same question and was given the response of "well if it's not happening right in front of me then it doesn't really exist". Cue frothing at the mouth with anger on my part (deep breaths before continuing), as this is a standard response that makes me want to bop people on the head. Then said individual went on to say that he is a strong believer in helping out at home before looking to help other countries. To which I gave my standard response of "well there aren't millions of people dying of starvation in this country though are there?!".

And then I started to think. Is he right? Should I spend more time looking at what is happening around me? Am I trying to help people who are beyond help when I could be helping people next door? Are there REALLY thousands of people dying of starvation in this country?

So let's do the research and a little comparison. Nothing really beats hard facts when faced with them:

MOWAAF survey in 2007: 750,000 seniors suffering from hunger ( I couldn't seem to find stats for non-seniors in the limited search that I just did on the internet)
WFP Stats: There are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of the US, Canada and the European Union.

Child mortality:
US, 2006: 6.8 deaths per 1,000 live births
World Bank, 2009: 128.2 deaths per 1,000 live births

(Please don't hate me for my less than deep research - I would do a better job if I gave myself more time, but I think these stats just show what we all know anyway).

So, I'm still confused. Or maybe confused isn't the word... Thinking too much into this? Should I do something at home too? Work in a soup kitchen? Tutor young kids for free? I think that can never be a bad idea, right? In the end, the only reason that I keep thinking about this is that I now feel that I am not doing enough. But at least I am doing something.

Women for Women
Plan USA
War Child Canada

Blogs that inspire me...

I've been inspired to do a lot today (run, cooking, shopping, cleaning, finishing my book), but not inspired to write much. And while I am taking a few minutes to sit down, relax and drink a cup of coffee I thought it would be the perfect moment to talk about the blogs that I find the most inspiring out there today... Have a look, you may find something you like too...
In no particular order:

Fresh Paint NYC
Great pictures of some wonderful street art in NYC, and other cities and countries.

Sighs and Whispers
Laura has amazing style and her blog is dreamworthy to say the least.

Fucking Nostalgic
My favourite music blog out of all them out there, hand down. Great writing, great music, great lay-out.

Systems of Romance
For those of you who like the more obscure sides of music. There are some really cool, rare downloads on this blog.

I Rock I Roll
Nora has this ability to know what is going to be hot before it is anywhere near it. And she's a lovely person too.

Texas in Africa
EXTREMELY smart and well-written blog on African politcs, conflict, social politics... I would recommend this to everyone. (Thanks to Meg for recommending it to me!)

Save Darfur
Because everyone should at least make themselves aware.

Dust Magic
Because Charlie is special and her blog makes me feel like I am floating in space.

Flowers and Cream

Thurston. Need I say more?

Generation Old Time Radio

Takes me back in time.

It's Not Just Pie In The Sky

Read all these posts on how Henry Rollins inspired/helped different people all over the world. Heartbreaking and inspiring.

I love this - a thank you note every day. Some of them will make you fall off your chair laughing.

Alison's (new) Blog

Beautiful pictures...

Nico's Blog - World Culture

Check out my friend Nico's blog: Nicolas Roux - At the heart of world culture

When he came to visit me in NYC last year he took me to a Tinariwen at The Poisson Rouge. I had never heard of them before and really enjoyed it. In any case, Nico's blog is mainly about African culture, history and current day affairs and is REALLY interesting.

Read and learn and discover...