Category Archives: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘Purple Hibiscus’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel, is one I have been meaning to read ever since I was completely blown away by her Orange Prize Winning ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. That book really took me by surprise, I knew nothing of Biafra and the war there, I knew nothing of the author and the book (which has since become a favourite and was the title I gave away for World Book Night) before it became a choice for a book group I was in. I couldn’t put it down; it was an amazing reading experience. So funny then that it was a book group that made me finally pick up ‘Purple Hibiscus’.

With her debut novel ‘Purple Hibiscus’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes us into the heart of a family in Nigeria not long after its colonisation, though this not the focus that the book takes, though it’s always bubbling away in the background. Instead Adichie tells us a story of religion as we follow Kambili a fifteen year old girl whose father is an extremist catholic. As the book opens Kambili witnesses her brother Jaja’s defiance of her father as he refuses to take communion in church, something utterly unthinkable, enraging her father and changing the dynamics of the house hold forever.

I did think after the first initial sixteen pages that make part one of the book ‘where is the story here, we’ve got the climax of it all at the beginning haven’t we?’ Well Adichie then proceeded to remind me that to every momentous moment there is a something that triggers it off. In the case of ‘Purple Hibiscus’ Adichie hints in the opening pages that things are pretty fragile for Kambili, Jaja, and their mother, what she does in part two is take us to how things have gotten to that point. For we all know that there is a lead up to every momentous moment. In this case it is their father’s sister Aunty Ifeoma.

The household that Kambili grows up in is, for the reader, an oppressive and claustrophobic one, dominated by a father so obsessed with god and the workings of the devil that he becomes abusive at any turn. Even small things like Kambili coming second in her class leads to some form of abuse based punishment, not sexual but often painful and humiliating. For Kambili this is simply life, its as normal as the schedule, which allows for a few toilet breaks, that her daily life must follow that is until she and Jaja go and stay in her Aunties house. Only this house, whilst with a catholic belief, is one of encouragement, progression and freedom. While they may be poor compared to Kambili’s fathers mass of wealth, they are richer in many other ways. Once Kambili and Jaja have their minds opened and allowed to roam free they begin to question things and so starts unravellings of powers and beliefs.

“I lay in bed after Mama left and let my mind rake through the past, through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka. Nsukka started it all; Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence. Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.
But my memories did not start at Nsukka. They started before, when all the hibiscuses in our front yard were a startling red.”

What I found startling, and probably the most effective part of Adichie’s writing and aspect of the book which hit me the hardest, was Kambili’s acceptance of the situation at home. Yet the more I thought about it the more I realised of course she would be, she had been groomed that her fathers form of godliness and the punishment that comes if you don’t come up to those standards are the norm.

“We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.”

It also proves an effective device by Adichie, the initial distance she places between the reactions of Kambili and the reaction of a reader gives a reader the room to put there own emotions, shock and horror in there, while this young girl just goes on accepting it. This rather reminded me of the way Margaret Atwood writes Cat’s Eye’ actually, getting the reader to put their emotion into a void purposefully left. Will Kambili go on accepting her fathers ways for good, well of course you will have to find out, you will also have to read on to see that the climatic event you think the book will end with doesn’t at all.

‘Purple Hibiscus’ isn’t a perfect book, it could have either done with being a little shorter and some of the small tangent tales cutting out, or having those tales developed further and been much longer and more epic, the latter I think I would have loved as Adichie is immensely readable. In fact how she fitted all of this and its themes into just over 300 pages is impressive. It is a book that makes you think and one that will leave its narrator with you for some time after. 8.5/10

This is a book I have had in Mount TBR for ages.

It was hard for me not to compare this book to ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ though I did try my hardest. I was worried I had been harder on it slightly because of my subconscious comparisons. This is where reading it for a book group was great because there were other readers who had read them in the same order as me and felt the same, and people for who ‘Purple Hibiscus’ was their first Adichie novel. The latter also felt the same, everyone seemed to like it a lot, yet they sort of wanted either less or more which I found really interesting. It proved a great book for discussion. What are your thoughts have you read ‘Purple Hibiscus’ or ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’? Who has read her short stories?

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Filed under Book Group, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Harper Collins, Review

World Book Night Begins…

…Well mine was actually more of a World Book Afternoon as I gave away 46 of 48 copies of my chosen title, which also happens to be one of my favourites! I can reveal it was…

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. How did I do it and why did I save two… You’ll have to wait till tomorrow to find out!

In the meantime I wondered what you are doing tonight?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Books of the Noughties

I feel a little like all I have been doing of late is compiling lists. If it wasn’t the two lists for best books of 2009 for next week, or books for 2010 for both work (I now have the books page in the magazine hoorah) and for the blog then it was shopping lists for the family Christmas presents, even though not seeing most of them till the end of January, and the never ending Christmas food fest shopping list. This is the list that has proved the most difficult.

I will admit that it’s really only since 2006 that my reading got out of hand. It’s interesting that that was also a year where escapism was the thing that I needed the most, it wasn’t the happiest year – well until I met The Converted One – a long bad relationship ended and I had a rather huge health scare all in all not the best. Yet the positive that came out of that year, roughly from February on, was that I utterly embraced my love for books again. I had been reading but maybe one book every month or so.

Now you would think in the nearly four years its been I wouldn’t have read that many of ‘the books of the noughties’ but this list has taken ages, books have been fighting with each other its been carnage. I have always preferred contemporary fiction to classics (though this has changed rather a lot this year) looking back over my blog and pre-blog ‘books I have read’ lists which I compile each year I have actually consumed quite a few though not all the big contenders I have seen in the papers. So bearing in mind I haven’t read every great book since 2000 (not that we will all agree on the great books since then, Cloud Atlas for example which I loathed) here are the books that made my top ten of the noughties with their blurbs, I could write a paragraph on each of them but am a) listed out and b) I loved them end of…

The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. His disappearances are spontaneous and his experiences are alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s passionate love for each other with grace and humour. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. “The Road” boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Small Island – Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. Murakami’s new novel is at once a classic tale of quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is an entertainment of a very high order.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character. As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

Laura Chase’s older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister’s tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one; while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama. 

Atonement – Ian McEwan

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

This is the story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of grandeur) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. Suddenly at the age of 12, Augusten found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian house in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients and a paedophile living in the garden shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules or school. The Christmas tree stayed up until Summer and valium was chomped down like sweets. When things got a bit slow, there was always the ancient electroshock therapy machine under the stairs.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusack

Here is a small fact – you are going to die. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – Death will visit the book thief three times.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley

The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century’s signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Nancy, the scalding wit who parlayed her family life into bestselling novels. Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home. Debo, who adored pleasure and fun, and found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life. Jessica, the runaway, a communist and fighter for social change. The Mitfords became myth in their own time: the great wits and beauties of their age, they were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people. Virtually spanning the century, these letters between the sisters — alternately touching and explosive — constitute a superb social chronicle, and explore with disarming intimacy their shifting relationships. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontes has a single family written so much about themselves, or been so written about. Their letters are widely recognized to contain the best of their writing. Mosley, Diana’s niece, will select from an archive of 18,000, to which she has exclusive access.

So that is your lot, not necessarily in order as it changes every hour or so. As I said lots of books fought for the top ten spot and I could easily have added The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Child 44, What Was Lost, On Chesil Beach, The Kite Runner, Notes on a Scandal, The Secret Scripture and many many more. A top 40 would have been good but might have been somewhat excessive. It has made me think how difficult doing this in 2020 will be considering I read so much more now. Anyway, this is my list in all its (some of you may think questionable) glory. What are your top books of the noughties? Oh and what do we call the next decade, the tensies, the teens?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Augusten Burroughs, Charlotte Mosley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Marcus Zusack, Margaret Atwood

Oranges Or Lemons?

So it starts, yes I am all finished with the utterly superb thriller/crime novel (which I will review later today – I know two blogs in one day I really am spoiling you) and now am all focused on the Orange Short List. I did actually really toy with the idea of reading the freshly arrived latest Sarah Waters novel ‘The Little Stranger’ but then thought “hang on I have already now got a backlog of six books that I need to read in just over two weeks… have I really got time? Actually I am still waiting on Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden and also The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (which is all about Alzheimer’s a subject very close to my heart as I often go to an Alzheimer’s home to see my Great Uncle) but they are on their way and it give me a chance to get through the others. Maybe I can treat myself to Sarah Waters along the way, maybe at the midway point? I am interested with the selection as until the shortlist was announced I had only heard of two and had only wanted to read one of the books on the list which is Kamila Shamshie’s Burnt Shadows, purely down to a few rave reviews and a wonderful cover. I should really put down the entire list just in case any of you don’t know it (highly unlikely) so the contenders are…

Scottsboro – Ellen Feldman
The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey
The Invention of Everything Else – Samantha Hunt
Molly Fox’s Birthday – Deirdre Madden
Home – Marilynne Robinson
Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
I am wondering if there will be some complete lemons in the mix of oranges, time will tell. I already have an inkling which one will win, but I am holding fire on saying in case it turns out to be a complete lemon. I also have two favourites in my head (neither which I think are the winner pre-reading them) just from the storyline’s alone. Isn’t it funny what judgements you can make on books without having read a single word!?! Will I be right? I am not sure to be honest as I have only read two of the winners the first was On Beauty by Zadie Smith which I think is possibly one of the most boring books I have ever read and on the complete opposite spectrum Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half A Yellow Sun which sits in my Top Ten Books of All Time. If I can I will try and fit in a few other winners along the journey but I do only have 15 days I must try and stay realistic. I shall announce who is my winner before 9am on Wednesday 3rd of June as it’s announced that evening. I can’t cheat as I will be on a plane to Switzerland at 7am that morning which also means you will all know the winner before I do! I don’t think it will make world news?

What are your predictions? Have you read any so far (no plot spoilers please)? What has been your favourite of the Orange Winners so far? Oh and most controversially, do we still need the Orange Prize and is it sexist to have an award just for women?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ellen Feldman, Kamila Shamsie, Marilynne Robinson, Orange Prize, Sarah Waters

The Savidge Top Ten Best Books of 2007

This is a really hard decision after such a brilliant year of reading, though am gutted didn’t managed 100 books, maybe this year, we shall see. I have to say part of me wanted to do a top twenty or a top 13 like the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ because I simply had so many that I would heartily recommend to you all. But enough of me waffling on, here is my list of what I thought was superb reading in 2007.

10. The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
This was possibly one of the most surprising books of the year for me which I read after a recommendation from on of the book group members. She had read it and thought that it would be right up my street and she was indeed right. This is a tale of David a twelve year old boy who has just lost his mother. Having moved to a new house he buries himself in the world of books to beat out the grief in his head. However these stories start to seep into the real world and bad things start to happen and The Crooked Man comes to claim David. This book was dark enthralling and added a new exciting twist to fairytales that brought out your childhood fears.

9. Case Histories – Kate Atkinson
I fell in love with Kate’s writing, not with ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ as I didn’t really take to that and never finished it, with ‘Human Croquet’ which had a brilliant dark otherness about it. Having re-found my love for crime fiction in the last twelve months I was overjoyed to discover she has written a combination of crime and literary fiction and ‘Case Histories’ was simply superb. Following Jackson Brodie, a brilliant complex main character, ex soldier and police man as he is hired as a private detective Atkinson takes a look at how small the world is and how coincidences can change everything and interlink. Brilliant plotting, superb characters.

8. Winter in Madrid – C.J.Sansom
Having also read his Historical Literary Crime (now there is a new genre) novel ‘Dissolution’ this year I have really rather enjoyed my two experiences of Sansom. However this novel set in 1940 after the Spanish Civil War in the ruins of Madrid was just stunning. Harry Brett is sent by the government to spy and find out as much as he can about old school chum Sandy Forsyth who has become somewhat of a shady character in Madrid. Harry becomes involved in a dangerous game of plots, skeletons in closets and emotional warfare. I thought this was absolutely brilliant and let out a huge ‘gasp’ at the ending I didn’t see coming. I also bought a few copies for people for Christmas.

7. Restless – William Boyd
This book was another complete surprise for me and a fresh take on the war from a female point especially from the point of a spy. In 1939 Eva Delectorskaya, twenty eight, is a Russian living in Paris when she is recruited by the British Secret Service and put under the tutoring of Lucas Romer a man of mystery. The book starts as in the present day Eva’s past comes back to haunt her as a grandmother happily settled. I found this book both thrilling and unique, you don’t think of grandma spies really do you. I found it fast paced and yet it really got into the characters and their motives. I bought this for a lot of people over the year.


6. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell This was a recommendation from my Gran who herself is a great reader and it takes a lot to impress her after 60 odd years of reading and three book clubs, she devoured this in two sittings. I devoured it in one. When Iris Lockheart gets a phone call telling her she has a long lost Aunt she has never heard of and who is due for release from an asylum and could she come and get her, her independent lifestyle gets embroiled in secrets from the families past. I found this unsuspecting thriller completely sucked me in and wasn’t expecting the tale of Esme’s journey to the Asylum to be so gripping whilst also so emotional. This was unputdownable if that’s a word.

5. The Observations – Jane Harris
This was one of those books that you should judge by the cover. I was in a little independent book shop in Cromford when I saw this as one of their recommended titles and it looked so gothic, dark, mysterious and full of secrets, I thought ‘why not?’ This is brilliant novel and without a doubt Bessy Buckley is my favourite character of the year, and her narration is wonderful (I didn’t find her Scottish and Victorian slang annoying at all) I though it was a unique voice. The story tells of Bessy taking a job for Arabella in her grand house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Bessy is more than happy at first as she is escaping her past in Glasgow, however, when asked to keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts along side her employer’s odd behaviour she starts to worry. Worries that build up further when she finds her employer had a slight obsession for her predecessor Nora who died mysteriously. This book is just brilliant, gripping, mysterious it has all the makings of a future classic and with a heroine like Bessy it deserves to be.

4. Half Of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It was difficult to only put this at number four because it was so brilliant but the competition was really, really tough this year with so many good books. This is possibly one of the most heart wrenching novels I have ever read set in the lead up, and start, of Nigeria’s Biafra War. The book has three unique outlooks from that of a servant boy Ugwu, his employer’s wife Olanna, and Richard a journalist who is Olanna’s twin sister’s lover from England. I found this book incredibly moving and upsetting the vividness of the war engrained so much on the page that you felt you were there for the shock and awe of it all. Not an easy read by any standard but a book I think should be in everyone’s collection.

3. Atonement – Ian McEwan
I have officially started to become a huge fan of McEwan and plan to read a lot more of his books this year. Of course with the big movie out I would be surprised if there is anyone now who hasn’t read the book or who doesn’t know the story. A story based all around confusion, childhood interpretations and mistakes, after Briony sees her sister Cecilia jump in a fountain whilst their childhood friend watches. From then on more mistakes are made and people’s lives are changed forever. I wasn’t expecting the war to loom in the book but it was dealt with well and added an extra something to the book. This is one of McEwan’s longest and possibly one of his best.

2. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusack
I remember when I was recommended this by the same lady who recommended ‘Restless’ I thought “not another book about the War”. I have to say the originality with which Zusack writes this novel made it without question one of the best books of the year. The narrator of the novel is Death during his particularly busy phase in 1939 Germany and a book thief that he encounters, nine year old Liesle who lives with her adoptive family in bomb torn Himmel Street. I didn’t think a book written by Death sounded like it would be much fun, and there isn’t fun in war, however this book is full of real hope for humans written in beautiful prose where every word has been thought through. It was easy to see why this was the biggest selling debut adult novel in 2007.

1. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’… I didn’t expect to find my new favourite read of all time (so far) this year, especially after ‘The Woman in White’ is such a tough act to follow, but with Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ from the first few pages it was a complete love affair. I love all things gothic and this book had it all. Following the unnamed second Mrs De Winter after she marries Maxim this books takes us through mystery, a beguiling ex-wife an evil housekeeper (Mrs Danvers was my favourite character in the whole book), a rambling estate and a possible murder. This book is a great gothic mystery but is also a great insight into people and how they work. If I hadn’t made the decision to put only one book per author in my top ten then I would have had to have ‘Jamaica Inn’ on the list which is almost as good. I am only worried now that having read what’s meant to be the best Du Maurier first I might be let down from now on, somehow though I doubt it.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2007, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Jane Harris, John Connolly, Kate Atkinson, Maggie O'Farrell, Marcus Zusack, William Boyd