Thursday, 21 April 2011

Chimamanda Adichie: PURPLE HIBISCUS – A Review

Title : Purple Hibiscus
Author: Chimamanda Adichie
Publisher: Fourth Estate, London
Year of Publication/Edition: 2009
Purchased From Amazon

I had no idea of what to expect from Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. However, there was one thing I was clear about after reading her two later works: Half of a Yellow Sun and The Thing Around Your Neck  -  I was in for an experience of storytelling heaven. The first thing that one notices about Adichie is her style, her language. It is like she is talking to me. It is accessible, lyrical and sophisticated. It is sophisticated because it is what it says on the surface, yet it runs deep. A simple phrase gets one thinking: “I wondered when Papa would draw a schedule for the baby…Papa liked order” (P.23)

The structure is well executed. We start from the point of rebellion and then work our way backwards and forward again. This works because Adichie wastes no time in quickly confronting us with the issues albeit in that understated style of hers. She tells us enough to keep us in the flow while dropping little bombs along the way. The point of view is appropriate in style and tone. The story is told in the fifteen year old voice of Kambili. Readers are introduced to her brother Jaja, ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’. It is clear from the outset that all is not well in the Achike household. Kambili tells us in the first few opening lines:

“Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère. We had just returned from church”. (P.3)

Kambili continues later in matter of fact fashion to let us know that the heavy missal was meant for Jaja but it missed him completely. The reader is immediately invited into a world – Kambili’s world and that of her family - where violence and religious fervour collide and make good bedfellows. The love affair between these two subjects is made the more potent because ‘Papa’ is a big man. He is a factory owner and newspaper publisher who bank rolls the local church with generous donations and is always the first to receive communion along with his family. Papa’s ritual of a ‘love sip’ where he invites both Kambili and Jaja to sip boiling hot tea is unsettling because it is a taste of things to come. Like Kambili said: “I knew that when the tea burned my tongue, it burned Papa’s love into me” (p.8). Then there is the jaw-dropping minute by minute control that Papa exerts over the Achike household 24/7. Adichie excels at easing out each of those bombs on us in a matter of fact way. Kambili casually mentions Papa’s time allocation to the task of school uniform washing:

“We always soaked tiny sections of fabric in the foamy water first to check if the colours would run, although we knew they would not. We wanted to spend every minute of the half hour Papa allocated to uniform washing” (P.19) 
 

The ‘matter of fact’ normality of domestic violence in the Achike household and the fear this breeds as well as the physical and psychological impact of such violence is what is undeniably unnerving about this book. The fear is evident in their minds, their thoughts, the things that are not said but felt - The fear that makes Kambili and Jaja develop a secret language where they talk with their eyes. And when Mama is pregnant (we’re told she’s had miscarriages before), Jaja says to Kambili: “We will take care of the baby; we will protect him” (P.23). But they could not, of course. Kambili describes ‘swift, heavy thuds on her parents’ hand-carved bedroom door’. She tries hard to ‘imagine that the door had become stuck and Papa was trying to open it’ and then she counts because ‘counting made it not seem that long, that bad’. This is after Papa finishes his special prayer for ‘people who tried to thwart God’s will’ – because Mama was feeling sick earlier on and did not think she could follow her husband and children to visit Father Benedict. The result of Papa’s prayer is heavy thuds behind closed doors followed by a trickle of blood, with Mama slung over Papa’s shoulder like a jute sack of rice. This is juxtaposed with the idea of domestic violence usually hidden from view. Kambili and Jaja are witnesses after the event.  Such is the nature of domestic violence and it is no accident that Adichie tells the story in a way that is unnervingly realistic. Domestic violence often happens behind closed doors with the effects later seen.

Papa (Brother Eugene Achike) is a man with two faces: One as a loving family man and public benefactor; the other as a terrifying, violent and fanatically religious monster who runs his household with the baton of fear and force. He is so repulsive a character that we desperately want to see him get his just desserts after the horrifying unspeakable hot water incident and later when Kambili ends up in hospital. Mama (Sister Beatrice Achike) initially seems to us a timid character but we soon find that still waters run deep. We have no idea until it hits us. But then someone else has to pay a hefty price so that they can all move on with the promise of breaking free from the past.

The heaviness of violence and religious dogma in the Achike household is balanced with love from the extended family – The love and care of Papa’s sister, aunty Ifeoma. Aunty Ifeoma becomes synonymous with the freedom and vibrancy of her purple hibiscus as she along with her children show Kambili and Jaja a different way to live. Father Amadi , a young priest and family friend is a fine specimen of psychologically healthy manhood when he takes an interest in Kambili and helps her break free from the warped admiration she has of her father. He is a mirror that shows up all that ‘Papa’ should be but is not.

The role of women in Igbo society and the patriarchal dominance of men is one that is evident. At least in this particular household, a woman is seen as subservient. Such suppression is portrayed as dangerous as there are limits to human endurance.

Press freedom - the lack of it - is explored as well as the political landscape of a military Nigeria. Brother Eugene’s only redeeming quality is that he ‘cares’ about the common man and the freedoms of civil society. And this is the irony – a man who cares so much about God and public freedoms but gags his household with fear and violence, and rejects his ‘heathen’ father. Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus is storytelling gold.    


     

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A Chat with Jude Dibia – BLACKBIRD

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Jude Dibia, author of new novel Blackbird. His previous books are Walking with Shadows (2005) and Unbridled (2007). Unbridled won the Ken Saro-Wiwa award for prose in 2007. Blackbird is his third novel. It is published by Jalaa Writers' Collective.

Jude Dibia
 What motivated you to want to be a writer?
In a sense, writing has always been a part of me. I kept a dairy when I was younger, writing about things that happened to me and the people around me; it contained my deepest thoughts and fears. I was also surrounded by books. My dad had a library at home, so at an early age I had, at my disposal, classical novels as well as modern contemporary reads. I never woke up one day and said to myself ‘alright, I want be a writer!’ No, it was an organic process, from reading so much and then wanting to tell my own stories eventually.

Who or what is your muse?
My muse! I draw inspiration from a number of sources. I could be somewhere and overhear a conversation or a phrase that would inspire a story idea. I love listening to music as well, and sometimes when I am pulled in, I find myself dreaming up stories. But primarily, the most significant source of inspiration is life. Life is my muse.

What is your best quote of all time?
I have several, but the one that comes to mind immediately is: ‘If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.’ This was by Toni Morrison, one of my favourite authors.

What keeps you going?
Knowing that hard work pays off and, also feeling so fortunate that people appreciate what I do as a writer.

What are you doing right now?
Having a bagel and coffee.

Your best blurb for your new book: Blackbird
Blackbird is a provocative novel that asks questions about beauty and truth… It studies the power of emotions—love, jealousy, pride and a sense of duty—and the terrifying frailness of identity.
Why should we buy it?
It is an engaging story. It has plenty for everyone to mule over and some rather poignant questions and scenarios. It opens with the murder of a female expatriate living in a highbrow suburb somewhere in Lagos and one is left with a deep sense of the uneven dichotomies that exist in our present society. But above all, it is a story about four unique characters and how their worlds collide.

State of the nation and your hopes for the future
I would hate to say I have given up on Nigeria, but we have yet another opportunity to make a change and elect responsible leaders, and this on its own looks promising. There’s so much that has to be done, with infrastructure, with education, with the moral of the people and imbibing a sense of pride for our identity and dignity in honest work. This change starts with the individual and from there we can build a great country

Upcoming projects
For now I am focused on promoting my new novel ‘Blackbird’. I do have some story ideas that I would develop in the near future. I should have some short stories out this year as well.

© Adura Ojo, April 2011
 
Competition Giveaway
Jude has kindly donated a copy of his new book Blackbird for a readers’ giveaway competition. To win, tell us why the book should be yours. Email your statement to adura.ojo@gmail.com. Competition closes on Wednesday 20th April at 10pm - Nigerian time. The winning entry will be posted here on Thursday 21st April.


Monday, 11 April 2011

Lola Shoneyin and the Price of Patriarchy: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

When I get hold of a book, I usually read the synopsis on the back cover and quotes from literary reviews. The brief synopsis of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives did not give much away but there was something about it that made me think I might have heard of a similar story in real life. The story starts with a narrative in the third person, an introduction to the Alao family also known as Baba Segi’s household. The reader is made aware of what the problem is - New and fourth wife Bolanle is apparently the source of patriarch, Baba Segi’s bellyache. Much later, the reader finds out how black comedic and ironic it is to nurse a bellyache for one’s own problems when one thinks the source of the problem comes from another.

Shoneyin tells her story well. The pacing is brilliant. At first the reader squirms, yearning for questions to be answered: like why would Bolanle a young graduate choose to marry Baba Segi, a middle aged semi-illiterate polygamist? The reader’s unease at this point is a mixture of curiosity and tension, a tension that works to a climax within the plot of the story itself. The reader’s squirming stops at the appropriate point in the tale for those questions to be answered. Other elements of nail biting tension are added to the plot just as the reader thinks they know it all. The editing is excellent and structure is tight, particularly with the challenge of the story being told from seven different points of view.

The skills employed using seven different POVs to reveal the web of secrets at the centre of the plot is the gem that makes Shoneyin a credible, enviable voice in contemporary African fiction. The story is told from the point of view of all the major characters: Baba Segi, Taju the driver, Bolanle and the other three wives. The third person narrative acts as a bridge at specific points in the story to keep the reader up to date with the bigger picture.  Language – accessible, dramatic and lyrical play to Shoneyin’s strengths as a poet. Bawdy humour exposing gritty realism of day-to-day life in the Alao enclave is appropriate given the socio-economic class of most characters and the cultural context of a polygamous household.


Without doubt, drawbacks of patriarchy within Yoruba culture and impact on the lives of people living within it take centre stage in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. None of the characters escape the choking tentacles of patriarchy. Baba Segi is protected in the complex web of deceit and societal ‘grace’ that his role as patriarch affords him. However as events unfold, the reader realises that he is also caught within its trap and limited by it. In this way, feminism weaves its unique strand of psychology into the reader’s thinking: men can also be victims of oppressive patriarchy. Unlike the other wives, Bolanle walks free. But even she pays a price for her freedom. The message is clear - women in such a society while being victims of a rigid patriarchal system must decide their own fate: to manipulate the tenets of patriarchy and collude with its oppressions or redefine their own identity while embracing a new found freedom. The conclusion seems to be that there is always a price to pay.

My only criticism of this engaging book would be that people from other cultures unfamiliar with the politics and setting of a polygamous household, might find the various points of view confusing. This could have been easily rectified by titling all relevant chapters with characters’ names so that it is clear who is telling their story. Regardless of this issue, the narrative told from various points of view is a strength, not a weakness.

I was right about my initial hunch. I had been told a similar story of a polygamous household in the mid 80s. There is however one indisputable fact - Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives packs in excess of a punch more.

©Adura Ojo. April 2011

Image: amazon.com

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

MYNE WHITMAN: A Love Rekindled (Part 2)

Part one of the interview with Myne Whitman, author of A Heart to Mend and new novel: A Love Rekindled, can be found here. Part two starts below.


Myne, A Heart to Mend was self published. Is your new book - A Love Rekindled, self published too?

Yes, it is.

Why did you decide to self publish – are you likely to continue self publishing? 

I decided to self-publish because I had a vision for my stories, and it was not to languish in my cupboard. Also, this new technology, Print-on-Demand (POD) had just become widely available and I love trying out new things. Self-publishing followed closely from blogging, and I am likely to continue if there are no other alternatives that are acceptable to me. Most people don’t know it, but I have actually gotten to contract discussions with a traditional publisher. Their terms were not author-friendly, and so I moved on. I do send queries either directly to publishers or to agents, but I will not tie my fate as an author to another person when there is now a direct line from me to my readers. 

If you could work with any author, who would it be?

It would have to be my husband. He’s not an author yet, but I want us to set up a husband and wife author name/team, lol. Why? We work very well today.

What are your writing habits – do you have a daily routine?

I try to write for at least a couple of hours every day. I usually write during the day time, but my muse can be quite strange, and has kept me awake all night in the past.

How do you get started with writing a story: which comes first - characters, plot or scenes?

Characters certainly come first, then the plot. The scenes come last.

The romance genre was previously not thought to be a popular option in Nigerian fiction. Why did you decide to focus on the romance genre and what impact do you think the romance genre might have on Nigerian fiction in the near future?

It still baffles me that people think romance is not popular. The thing is, you’ll find what you look for. In my experience, most people read romance, either Nigerian or foreign. As we speak, Hausa authors sell their romance pamphlets in their hundreds of thousands in Northern Nigeria. The problem came when a lot of contemporary writers became fixated on winning awards and getting fat big deals. Nothing wrong with that per se, except it removes the power from readers and stifles what could be a mass market for book. By writing romance, I hope to revive reading for enjoyment once again, so readers have the power to like or not like a book, and have enough choice to move on.

What do you think makes for a good romance novel?

Hmmm, this is very subjective I guess, but in my opinion there has to be great characters that the readers can identify with. The ending is also important, it has to be satisfying and believable.

What do you enjoy most about writing and what do you enjoy the least?

I like giving my imagination full rein, and creating a story complete with ‘real’ people and all. The editing can get annoying, when you have to polish and polish and maybe cut out favourite scenes, lines, or God forbid, characters.

Who is your favourite Nigerian author?

Of all the contemporary Nigerian books I’ve read recently, I have to say Lola Shoneyin. She has this humorous, irreverent style, that captured me in her novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. I have also met Lola, and she is scintillating!

Are there any new Nigerian writers that have caught your attention?

Several of them actually. I look forward to reading Adaobi Nwaubani’s next books. I haven’t read any of Odili Ujubuonu’s books, but he has a trilogy whose description has excited me. He is writing historical fantasy set in Nigeria, and I look forward to experiencing his stories.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

They should keep writing till they complete a collection of shorts or a novel, and work at editing their manuscripts till opportunity comes knocking.

Please tell us about projects you are currently working on?

There are two books taking up space in my head now. I hope one of them is ready next year. Also I will continue to work to promote the NaijaStories.com website as a means to raising an army of readers among the young people in Nigeria, as well a band of authors to supply that market. With time, I intend to set up a publishing firm to act as a bridge between the two.

Is there anything else you would like to say to your readers?

Thank you all so much!


Myne, it's been a pleasure talking to you.  

The same here Adura, thanks for this opportunity.


Myne Whitman’s new novel – A Love Rekindled is out now. It is available at…AMAZON and everywhere good books are sold.

Congratulations to Naijamum who won last week's competition giveaway. She gets a free e-book of A Love Rekindled. Naijamum, to claim your prize please send an email to adura.ojo@gmail.com

Enjoy the trailer for A Love Rekindled, below. 

©Adura Ojo.  March 2011

Trailer Credits: Myne Whitman


Friday, 1 April 2011

MYNE WHITMAN: A Love Rekindled


Hi, Myne. Please tell us about yourself - a brief biography.

I am a Nigerian blogger, poet, and author. I live in Seattle with my husband and write full time. I blog at www.mynewhitmanwrites.com and I am on twitter@Myne_Whitman and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Myne.Whitman.

I was born at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu, Nigeria and I grew up in that city till my middle secondary school. I attended Ekulu Primary School, Queens School Enugu, Special Science School Agulu and Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka. I remember as a child studying a lot, reading everything I could lay my hands on, and then trying to play the rest of the time. My mother was a school teacher and my father worked for the electoral commission, so the love of reading and education came from them and from the environment of Enugu, which is a part an academic and civil service city.

Sometimes I come across as quiet but I do like a good loud debate too. In three words, I will describe myself as friendly, caring and fun-loving. I realized early on through books that it was possible to be whoever and do whatever you wanted to do. I learnt to stretch my wings even further when I first left the country. I have a degree in Applied Biology and a master’s in Public Health Research. I have been a teacher, NGO consultant, banker, skate-hire attendant, and researcher and have worked for the government both in Nigeria and Scotland.

Myne Whitman

Have you always wanted to write?

Let’s just say that as far back as I can tell, the stories in my head were already bursting to be let go, and since I wasn’t a big talker, it made sense to write them down.

When did you begin writing?

I began telling my stories from about 10 years old. I was becoming too big to be allowed to go play with the boys, but too young to do much of anything else. So whenever my mum allowed me some free time from studying, I found myself scribbling my adventurous imaginations on the backs of my notebooks. I started completing and saving my manuscripts when I was maybe 20 or so.

What inspired you to write your first novel: A Heart to Mend?

First and foremost I wanted to tell a story of love and finding oneself. I also felt that there were not were not enough romance novels set in contemporary Nigeria, and that I could do something to change that. Therefore, a lot of these themes in A Heart to Mend are motivated by events or stories I’ve heard or read about in real life Nigeria of the last few years. The characters and issues dealt with in the book are therefore meant to be relevant for contemporary life and relationships. Again, I have always been intrigued by the principle of unconditional love. When I started reading the Mills and Boon Romance novels as a young adult, their stories had a big influence on me and my writing. My imagined and written stories changed from adventures to romance. So now that I decided on full time writing, I was moved to go back to that genre.

Are your books based on people you know, or events in your own life?

LOL...let me say here that none of my characters is based on me or anyone I know in particular but on a cumulative of my experience. In A Heart to Mend, the hearts being mended are those of my characters, Edward and Gladys. They're just people of my imaginings, though since I try to make my stories as real as possible, they also share our fears and hopes, our victories and our pain. Some people say they seem free from some of the usual constraints we real persons face, but if you look closely, you may even recognize one or more of them. For these readers who identify with any of my books and the themes/characters in it, I hope their hearts will be mended, and their loves rekindled too.

What books have most influenced you in your thinking?

The bible is the single book that has made me who I am today. Other books may have had an impact too including the loads of Mills and Boons I’d read, Alex Haley’s Roots, Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by R. Kiyosaki, Buchi Emecheta’s The Bride Price, and Dale Carnegie’s How to make friends and influence people.

How did you make the decision to quit your day job and become a writer?

Can I say I have some attitude about that word – writer. Aren’t we all writers really, in the basic sense of it? To your question, I did not quit my day job for writing but for something bigger. The choice was to start another day job, or do something I was more passionate about. I decided to do the latter, and the rest is history. 

Your first novel, A Heart to Mend received positive reviews both internationally and in Nigeria. What would you say most contributed to its success?

Can I be big-headed and say people just connected with the story? LOL. Hmmm...I think it was the freshness of the story, and the organic way in which it grew. So there was not an Orange Prize telling people this was a good book, AHTM was a story a lot of the initial readers had watched germinate on my blog, and so they embraced it, and promoted it like their own. 

What's the blurb for A Love Rekindled?

Efe finds true love with Kevwe, and promises to marry him. Their dreams unravel when Efe wins an American Visa, and fresh violence erupts between their warring ethnic groups. Now, Efe is back in Nigeria, and sparks fly when they meet again. But renewed desire is no match for bitter memories of heartbreak. Can they overcome the traumatic past and rekindle their love?

What might your readers like about A Love Rekindled, how different is it to A Heart to Mend?

One thing unique about ALR is that it goes back to the nineties, and to the main character’s experiences while in university. A lot of people will definitely love that nostalgic feeling of revisiting their university days. As for how different both books are, readers will have to decide.

Myne Whitman’s new book – A Love Rekindled is out now. It is available at…AMAZON and everywhere good books are sold.

Coming up in part two: Myne reveals her favourite Nigerian author, the writer she would most like to collaborate with, her plans for the future and why she chose the self publishing route.

©Adura Ojo.  March 2011