“INTERVIEW WITH CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE: CREATIVE WRITING AND LITERARY ACTIVISM” By Dr.

Ada Uzoamaka Azodo President Women’s Caucus of the African Literature Association (WOCALA) [aazodo@iun.edu] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will address the Women’s Caucus of the African Literature Association at a luncheon on Thursday, April 24, 2008, Western Illinois University, Macomb, Illinois, USA. The eminent new Nigerian literary voice, author of several short stories, a play, collected and uncollected poems, essays, interviews, and two novels to date, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, will speak on: “A Happy Feminist and an African Woman: Approaches to the Construction of My Female Characters.” Very kindly, Adichie has granted this interview, in order that members might get to know her better: her origins, background, literary itinerary, activities, and projects for the future. Chimamanda is also winner of many awards and nominations for literary prizes. Azodo: You hail from the Igbo country of eastern Nigeria. Could you tell us about your parentage, siblings, and grandparents? Adichie: My father is from Abba and my mother is from Umunnachi, both in Anambra State. I grew up in the university town of Nsukka, where my parents worked. I did not know my grandfathers, as they both died in the Nigeria-Biafra war. My grandmothers were strong, interesting women. I am the fifth of six children. 1Azodo: Why do you choose the English language as the medium of your expressive writing? What is your view on the use of indigenous languages by African fiction writers? Would you ever consider writing in the Igbo language? Adichie: I’m not sure my writing in English is a choice. If a Nigerian Igbo like myself is educated exclusively in English, discouraged from speaking Igbo in a school in which Igbo was just one more subject of study (and one that was considered ‘uncool’ by students and did not receive much support from the administration), then perhaps writing in English is not a choice, because the idea of choice assumes other equal alternatives. Although I took Igbo until the end of secondary school and did quite well, it was not at all the norm. Most of all, it was not enough. I write Igbo fairly well but a lot of my intellectual thinking cannot be expressed sufficiently in Igbo. Of course this would be different if I had been educated in both English and Igbo. Or if my learning of Igbo had an approach that was more wholistic. The interesting thing, of course, is that if I did write in Igbo (which I sometimes think of doing, but only for impractical, emotional reasons), many Igbo people would not be able to read it. Many educated Igbo people I know can barely read Igbo and they mostly write it atrociously. I think that what is more important in this discourse is not whether African writers should or should not write in English but how African writers, and Africans in general, are educated in Africa. I do not believe in being prescriptive about art. I think African writers should

write in whatever language they can. The important thing is to tell African stories. Besides, modern African stories can no longer claim anything like ‘cultural purity.’ I come from a generation of Nigerians who constantly negotiate two languages and sometimes three, if you include Pidgin. For the Igbo in particular, ours is the Engli-Igbo generation and so to somehow claim that Igbo alone can capture our experience is to limit it. Globalization has affected us in profound ways. I’d like to say something about English as well, which is simply that English is mine. Sometimes we talk about English in Africa as if Africans have no agency, as if there is not a distinct form of English spoken in Anglophone African countries. I was educated in it; I spoke it at the same time as I spoke Igbo. My English-speaking is rooted in a Nigerian experience and not in a British or American or Australian one. I have taken ownership of English. Azodo: Could you tell us about your literary itinerary, that is, your beginning, where you are at now, and where you are going in the future with writing? 2Adichie: I’ve been writing since I was old enough to spell. I fell in love with books as a child and writing remains the only thing I find truly meaningful. I cannot speak about where I am going in the future because I like to think that I will know when I get there. Azodo: You manifest interest in various aspects of Nigerian life—politics, economy, ethnicity, language, religion, communication, morality, sexuality, etc. What motivates your activism in these domains? Adichie: I’m not sure I can consciously analyze the roots of my interest. One just happens to be interested in things, I suppose. I am a very keen observer of my world and my experience as a Black African woman clearly plays a role in the things that interest me. In the end, it is human beings that I care about and the idea of what it means to be human that interests me. Azodo: Do you have projects in progress now, and what is in the horizon in the short and long terms? Adichie: I do have a novel in progress but, being the unreasonably superstitious Igbo woman that I am, I would rather not talk about it. Azodo: What can one do to preserve one’s linguistic patrimony from erosion in the context of a globalized world? What could scholars and creative artists do, severally or conjointly, in the case of Nigeria? Adichie: This is a question I hear often and ponder often. I would say the first step is to start at home. To teach our children our languages. I am amazed by the number of African academics who teach and write about this sort of thing but whose children do not speak their languages. I am very interested in what happened to us Africans. My father was a PhD student in the US in the early 1960s. When my mother had their first daughter, my parents decided to speak only Igbo at home, to make sure she knew her language because they knew she would learn English at school. Now, forty years later, that daughter of theirs has a son who does not speak Igbo and is not encouraged to. Some middle class Nigerians tell me that their children will be ‘confused’ if they speak both languages. I find this amusing. I certainly was not confused growing up bilingual.

I think that, beneath these superficial reasons, there are deeper questions of self-esteem and fundamental pride in who we are. Azodo: Thank you very much, Ms. Adichie. ___________o______________________o______________________o__________ 3NOTES: [For fuller accounts on primary and secondary sources, see the following URL, Copyright 2004-2007 Daria Tunca, http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/] Literary Awards: Among Adichie’s many literary awards and nominations include the following: • BBC Short Story Competition 2002 joint winner, for 'That Harmattan Morning' • O. Henry Prize 2003, for 'The American Embassy' • David T. Wong International Short Story Prize 2002/2003 (PEN Center Award), for 'Half of a Yellow Sun' • Hurston/Wright Legacy Award 2004 (Best Debut Fiction Category), for Purple Hibiscus • Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2005: Best First Book (Africa), for Purple Hibiscus • Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2005: Best First Book (overall), for Purple Hibiscus • Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards 2007 (Fiction category), for Half of a Yellow Sun (joint winner with Martha Collins, for Blue Front) • PEN 'Beyond Margins' Award 2007, for Half of a Yellow Sun (joint winner with Ernest Hardy for his essay collection Blood Beats, Vol. 1, Harryette Mullen for her poetry anthology, Recyclopedia, and Alberto Ríos for his poetry collection, Theater of Night) • Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, for Half of a Yellow Sun • Woman Booker prize for Half of a Yellow Sun, 2007. Nominations: • Short listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing 2002, for 'You in America' • Runner-up in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2002, for 'The Tree in Grandma's Garden' • Short listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2004, for Purple Hibiscus • Long listed for the Booker Prize 2004, for Purple Hibiscus • Nominated for the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Best Books for Young Adults Award (2004), for Purple Hibiscus • Short listed for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize 2004/2005, for Purple Hibiscus • Nominated for the 33rd Annual National Book Critics Circle Prize (2006), for Half of a Yellow Sun • Short listed for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2007: Best Book (Africa), for Half of a Yellow Sun • Nominated for the British Book Awards 2007, category 'Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year', for Half of a Yellow Sun • Nominated for the James Tait Black Memorial prize 2007, for Half of a Yellow Sun (winner to be announced on 25 August 2007) 4SHORT BIO-BIBLIOGRAPHY: Biography: Date of Birth: September 15, 1977

Place of Birth: Enugu, Anambra State, Nigeria Home Town/Natal Village: Abba, Anambra State, Nigeria Parentage [Father]: James Nwoye Adichie, retired Professor of Statistics, University of Nigeria, and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Nigeria [Mother]: Grace Ifeoma, Adichie, retired Registrar, University of Nigeria, Nsukka High School Attended: University of Nigeria, University School, Nsukka University Attended: Drexel University, Philadelphia [first 2 undergraduate years] Eastern Connecticut State University Degrees Earned: B. A., 2001 [Communications and Political Science] Eastern Connecticut State University M. A., 2003 [Creative Writing] Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore Postgraduate Studies [continuing]: African Studies Program, Yale University Bibliography: For Love of Biafra (play). Ibadan, Spectrum Books, 1998. Decisions (collected poems). London: Minerva Press, 1998. Purple Hibiscus (novel). Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2003. Half of a Yellow Sun (novel). London: Fourth estate, 2006. ___________o______________________o______________________o__________ 5 http://www.iun.edu/~minaua/interviews/interview_chimamanda_ngozi_adichie.pdf

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Interview: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Molara Wood interviews Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of 'Half of a Yellow Sun', shortlisted for the 2007 Orange Prize.

I understand you first saw the hardback edition of 'Half of a Yellow Sun' at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2006? I enjoyed myself at the festival. But Edinburgh was less about the event than about seeing this book for the first time. I was almost in tears. All those weeks and months when I didn't sleep, here was the result. It was really an emotional moment. Was it different from how you felt at the publication of your debut novel, Purple Hibiscus? I really did not question Purple Hibiscus, but you might say I questioned Half of a Yellow Sun. I knew how much work I had put into Purple Hibiscus, how difficult it had been to get an agent even. So it was remarkable in that sense. I still look at the very first edition that came out with a special feeling. That said, I didn't really have any expectations. Remember, that when the book was published I was prepared to be ignored. And so I am proud and grateful for all that happened with that novel. I love Purple Hibiscus; it’s a book I would write again. Can you relate that sense of pride to the publication of Half of a Yellow Sun. Half of a Yellow Sun is much more important in the sense that it doesn't belong to me alone. It’s different because, amongst other things, it goes beyond any sense of personal accomplishment. Half of a Yellow Sun is a book that I felt I had to write, in way that I can’t even describe. I was happy to see it come out at last, because I know how difficult it was to write, what it took. How long did it take to write?

A: It took four years to do the actual concentrated work. As I said, I’d known I would write it long before, and so I started working on it right after Purple Hibiscus was finished. I knew I wanted Half of a Yellow Sun to be a multi-person book, a multi-perspective book. I kept most of the early draft of the manuscript, because Binyavanga Wainaina (2002 Caine winner) tells me that when I’m 60, it could be worth something! You won the David T. Wong Prize for a short story, Half of a Yellow Sun - also about the Biafran war. Is the novel a way of developing the story further? Half of a Yellow Sun the story was really a way of taking small steps, taking a giant issue piecemeal. It wasn’t alone. I explored the theme of the Biafran war in other short stories. My story,‘Ghosts’ is another take on the war, as is ‘That Harmattan Morning'. So in a sense I’ve been preoccupied with this in my fiction for some time, and to that extent the short story is somewhat similar. That said, the novel is quite different from the story. The characters are different; there’s also a difference in how I think in my approach to the work. Then there is the scope, which is so much bigger. It’s a huge canvas. It’s about how people change. How did you go about showing this change in people? I wanted the characters themselves to drive the action. There is the outsider Biafran, in the character of Richard. Then Olanna and Kainene, wealthy Nigerians and Odenigbo, the academic and then finally Ugwu, the houseboy who is the soul of the novel. When we see them immersed in war we feel for them, because we have come to know them intimately. What was it like for you the writer, creating these characters? There were times when I would feel a character had left me - Olanna especially - so I'd have to go back and try to listen to that character. I went through a lot of self doubt, nervousness. I guess in the end it was a good thing. Also, I'm very stubborn. It was very difficult to do but I felt that it was worthwhile. You’ve enjoyed great success, starting with the wide acclaim that greeted Purple Hibiscus. That raised expectation, concerning what you would do next. Did you feel this pressure while you were working on Half of a Yellow Sun? I was not consciously thinking about success, failure or pressure. A woman at the BBC asked me: what is it like to be you? I had no answer, because I am just me. I don’t think about some other public persona beyond that. As for pressure, sure, there was nervousness when I was

working on Half of a Yellow Sun, but it was more about, I’m going to do this book. I knew that if I failed, I would not have done justice to this very important subject. I didn't want to write some polemical book that is more or less a bit of propaganda. It’s so easy to get it wrong. You were working on Half of a Yellow Sun all the while, yet you maintained an impressive form in short story publications. The short stories published - those were the times when Half of a Yellow Sun was refusing to work. I would take a break by writing a short story. Besides, I’ve always written short fiction. Short stories are my refuge. I sometimes write essays also, largely because people ask me to. I don’t know anything about music, and yet I managed to write something for an American journal on music! I recognise, of course, that essays are good publicity if one has a book out. The Biafran war remains a sore subject in Nigeria, still under much contention. Could Half of a Yellow Sun prove divisive within the Nigerian context? Biafra is a subject that we are not honest about, don’t talk about. We should be asking WHY the war remains a sore subject. I have received some responses from defensive Nigerian readers who ask – oh, you didn't write about the people who suffered in Lagos. And some Igbo readers who say – oh, why did you show our warts as well? But what makes me happiest is getting feedback from Nigerians, Igbo and non-Igbo, who found the book meaningful, who read it without imposing their own preconceived notions on it. It has Biafran sympathies for which I don’t apologise but it does not romanticise the war and what I’ve tried to do is hold on to the human angle in telling the story. What do you hope for Half of a Yellow Sun? What I hope this book will do in Nigeria is get us to examine our history and ask questions. I hope that my generation of Nigerians in particular will talk about this period. Beyond that, I just want the book to be read. I hope people everywhere will read it. What are you doing next? I am doing a week of workshops in Lagos and Enugu this summer with ordinary Nigerians who are interested in writing, and my friend the Kenyan writer, Binyavanga Wainaina has graciously agreed to come and co-teach the workshop with me. I am thinking of the next book, working on short fiction and struggling to understand the academic texts I have been reading! Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will be at the Orange Prize Shortlist Readings at the South Bank Centre, London, on 5 June. The winner wll be announced on 6 June.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie official website Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction
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Access to this website is free - help us keep it Interview by Charlie Kimber, October that way. Please make a 2006 donation. 'My book is not just about people thrown into a war where we watch them die. It is about people who have Subscribe full lives and how war changes them'. The award winning author of Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, talks to Charlie Kimber about her new novel,Half of a Yellow Sun, set during the Biafran War. Although she is only 29 years old, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has won wide acclaim. Her first Get each issue novelPurple Hibiscus was shortlisted delivered - and save for the Orange Prize for Fiction and money longlisted for the Booker. as well! Her latest book, Half of a Yellow Sun, focuses on the Biafran War. "I wrote this novel because I wanted to write about love and war, and in particular because I grew up in the shadow of Biafra," says Adichie. The book's title refers to the flag of an independent Biafra - a sun midway through rising. "Both my grandfathers were killed in the Nigeria-Biafra war, and I wanted to engage with that history in order to start a conversation about the

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war - which is still hardly discussed in Nigeria," she says. "It is a personal issue - my father has tears in his eyes when he speaks of losing his father, my mother still cannot speak at length about losing her father in a refugee camp." Friends of Adichie's dad gave him books because his had been destroyed during the war. "I would open one and I would see someone's name or stamp on it. Each had its own history," Adichie says. "Previously I've written short stories, poetry and a play about Biafra. I had to write a book I would be happy with." Half of a Yellow Sun is not only a personal account - in Adichie's words, "It's also a political issue. People who were prominent during the Biafra war are still powerful in Nigeria. Many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved today. The political context of the book is incredibly important. If there's such a thing as an anti-war book, this is it, but it must succeed primarily as a work of art." Adichie recognises the way class powerfully affects people's lives something unusual in much modern writing. One of the central characters, Olanna, is used as bait to lure her parents' potential business partner. Olanna knows that money talks: "She was used to this, being grabbed by men who walked around in a cloud of cologne-drenched entitlement with the presumption that, because they were powerful and found her beautiful, they belonged together." Olanna's twin sister, Kainene, bitterly describes the post-independence rulers: "The new Nigerian upper class is a collection of illiterates who read nothing and eat food they dislike at overpriced Lebanese restaurants and have social conversations about one subject: 'How's the new car behaving?'" Adichie says, "I've always been interested in class and questions about class. In Nigeria, but

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also in other countries, it's very clear how class determines how people look at you. People treat their drivers or their servants as if they were not really human. In this book I wanted to show the way class shapes lives. But I also wanted to point to the possibility of different relationships. So the book's radical Professor Odenigbo treats his houseboy as a person and with kindness. He has respect for him. "Then there are the questions of the way the rich, whichever side they were on in the war, were able to leave Nigeria or to have access to a good living in a way that was not possible for ordinary people. Even at times of great crisis, class still determines what happens. In the Biafran army officers had good food, uniforms and entertainment while the men had no uniforms and perhaps just one meal a day." Modern African history is the result of the intersection of pre-colonial societies, the colonial experience, the actions of post-independence leaders and the continuing pressure of the multinationals and the great powers. The book includes powerful passages explaining some of the historical background: "The first time the Igbo people were massacred, albeit on a much smaller scale than what has recently occurred, was in 1945. The carnage was precipitated by the British colonial government when it blamed the Igbo people for the first national strike, banned Igbo-published newspapers and generally encouraged anti-Igbo sentiment." Anti-colonialism Adichie remains angry about the way colonialism set people against one another through a policy of divide and rule, and says such events cannot be forgotten. "I think it's impossible to write about Africa in the 1960s or today

without engaging with that history," she says. "Of course, the Western powers came back after independence - a lot of people would say they never really left. Nigeria was set up to fail. The only thing we Nigerians should take responsibility for is the extent of the failure. "The first Nigerian government of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was incredibly unpopular because people believed he was a puppet who would do whatever the British asked him to. The British helped him to power through fraud and on the basis of a constitution that favoured him. "Not only was colonialism an awful thing, it also created conditions where the Africans who took over became colonialists themselves. They were copying what they had seen." Adichie says the legacy of colonialism survives in other ways - such as the way some British readers have responded to her book. "There's a tremendous interest and sometimes resentment, about the character Richard. He's white and British. I think he's a rounded character but he is clearly weak at times. Lots of British readers have been resentful about that. I think there is something colonial about this reaction. If Richard had been a Nigerian man there would have been less interest." Amid the horror of mass death from starvation and disease in Biafra we learn that the killer malnutrition condition kwashiorkor has been renamed Harold Wilson syndrome after the British Labour prime minister who armed the Nigerian government and helped to enforce the blockade of Biafra. There is also a strong sense in the book of the need to stop bowing towards the former rulers. Olanna is attracted to Odenigbo by his fiery anti-colonialism. As she waits in a queue for theatre

tickets she sees a white man waved to the front: "Olanna was annoyed, but only mildly because she knew the queue moved fast anyway. So she was surprised at the outburst that followed from a man wearing a brown safari suit and clutching a book: Odenigbo. He walked up to the front, escorted the white man back into the queue and then shouted at the ticket seller. 'You miserable ignoramus! You see a white person and he looks better than your own people? You must apologise to everyone in this queue! Right now!'" Adichie is aware of the danger of reinforcing stereotypes about Africa as "the dark continent" when writing a book about horrific war there: "I hate the image of Africa as simply a continent of starving people and warring people and, behind that, the notion of a continent of stupid people. I do sometimes feel ambivalent that I might be adding to that image of Africa. But to console myself I say that Half of a Yellow Sun is nuanced and complex, and it's not just about people thrown into war where we watch them die. It's about people who have full lives and of how those lives change in war. "And also it's about a war with a reason - it's not about a 'senseless' conflict. There are clear political causes. And it makes those causes clear, which we often don't get. Fighting in Africa is often portrayed as about 'age-old hatreds' that suddenly erupt and people start to kill each other. That sort of analysis obscures the political reasons why things happen." The book also has a strong sub-theme about the achievements of pre-colonial Africa and how these societies are often misunderstood. Richard, who has a great reverence for pre-colonial civilisation, visits a village where great treasures have been found and asks if they have come from a king's burial

chamber. A villager "gave Richard a long, pained look. Emeka laughed before he translated, 'Papa said he thought you were among the white people who knew something. He said the people of Igboland do not know what a king is. We have priests and elders.' Richard apologised. He sat there for a while imagining the lives of people who were capable of such beauty, such complexity in the time of Alfred the Great." Half of a Yellow Sun deals with Biafrans' desire to break away from the Nigerian state, and with the often murderous divisions between people from different ethnic backgrounds. Nigeria, a country with 130 million people, has many ethnic groups and hundreds of local as well as common languages. But Adichie remains hopeful of the potential for unity - under the right conditions: "I really believe we can unite. I have never agreed with the argument that just merely by being different it means that people cannot live together. It's about politics. "I look at the Nigerian capital Lagos, and in the rich areas people from all different ethnic groups live together and get along perfectly alright with each other. But then in the poorer areas there are killings because people are told they cannot get jobs because the Igbo man has taken them. "It's not the differences themselves, but the way the differences are manipulated. Ethnicity has always been manipulated in Nigeria. If we hadn't had political parties that were regionally based - and therefore tribally based - then I wonder if our history would have been different. The Biafran War was about separation, but the demand and need for separation arose because of political events. At various points in Nigerian history different groups have wanted to secede. We see that right from the start to the

present day. "The Igbo never wanted secession until the late 1960s. They were nationalist and pro-Nigeria. But this feeling was turned around by the massacres in the north of Nigeria. It isn't that people were born with the need to live where there were only Igbo-speaking people it is political events that led to those demands." Adichie stresses that amid the very real horrors of war people do incredible things: "Biafran people learned a certain independence during the war. People who were blockaded started to make their own engine oil. I deeply admire the self-reliance they showed. I didn't want war just to be seen as a terrible thing, which it is of course. But it is also a time when people come together. It makes you realise what really matters." In the book Olanna and Kainene, who have been set apart by adultery, are reconciled because of their shared suffering during the war. Kainene says, "There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable." Another great African writer, Chinua Achebe, says that "Adichie came almost fully made" and her style is a remarkable combination of simplicity and depth. Half of a Yellow Sun is in some ways a very easy book to read. But it also has layers that can be appreciated again and again. Follow the rhythms in this passage that I took almost at random from the book: "They were standing before the glass door. Ugwu held back from reaching out to touch the cement wall, to see how different it would feel from the mud walls of his mother's hut that still bore the faint patterns of moulding fingers. For a brief moment, he wished he were back there now, in his mother's hut,

under the dim coolness of the thatch roof; or in his aunty's hut, the only one in the village with a corrugated iron roof." The combinations of textures, the sense of touch, the various temperatures, the flow of the sentences all make the writing incredibly vivid. Adichie has written a wonderful book that brings together a hidden history and the lives of powerfully drawn individuals. She is an important voice in the debates about Africa's future, and she plays a vital role as a woman promoting those debates.

Half of a Yellow Sun is published by 4th Estate, �14.99. You can order the book from Bookmarks, phone 020 7637 1848.

Biafran War

The Biafran War took place between July 1967 and January 1970. As a result, between 500,000 and two million Biafran civilians died from starvation. In January 1966 a group of leftist army officers took power through a coup. Many of those involved were Igbos from the east of the country. Months later a group of officers from the northern part of Nigeria carried out their own coup. These battles at the top led to great ethnic tension and massacres of Igbos. The discovery of oil in 1958 meant there was a glittering prize available to a government that could hold the country together. This meant crushing any moves towards the Igbo independence movement. In May 1967 Colonel Odumegwu

Ojukwu proclaimed in the southern parliament the secession of the south eastern region from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra. The war began when Nigerian federal troops advanced into Biafra. Biafrans fought surprisingly strongly, given their lack of resources. The Nigerians besieged Biafra while the great powers watched the death toll grow. Elites from both sides of the civil war put their own interests before those of ordinary people.

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Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s Debt to Achebe?
by AHMED MAIWADA. Kevin McCarron, a Modern English and American Literature teacher at the Roehampton Institute, also a critic with a special interest in the works of William Golding, wrote in the“Writers and their Works” series on William Golding, “…(his) war service, his knowledge of small boys, his love of sailing, are clearly of importance to any understanding of his works, but although we know a number of facts about Golding’s life these facts can never, in themselves, explain the fiction.” I am persuaded to recommend McCarron’s statement as formula for critics’ in their quest to understand the works of authors: too little knowledge about such authors may be as fatal as improper analysis. Professor Adebayo Lamikanra, for instance, seemingly knew little about Chimamanda Adichie’s life when he wrote in the Nigerian Guardian newspaper of 4 April 2005 that Adichie is “….the daughter of a Nigerian professor, brought up mainly on the campus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka… is therefore a product of the Nigeria’s embattled, increasingly frustrated and perhaps, hopelessly marginalised intelligentsia, which because of its exposure to Western thought and respect for Western culture is increasingly alienated from their own country and culture, so that whilst they are patently not of the West, they are even less of the African.” On this count, the Professor drew a few haphazard parallels between Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and then concluded that the former novel owes tomes of gratitude to the latter. The superficial knowledge of Adichie contributed to Lamikanra’s fatal fall for Adichie’s dummy on the first line of her novel: “Things began to fall apart …”To the Professor, “The first sentence … betrays the debt of gratitude she owes to … Chinua Achebe… the parallel between the Purple Hibiscus and … Things Fall Apart are too strong to be ignored.” An equally wrong-footed Professor Femi Osofisan joined the chorus thus: “…But in fact it is the master, Chinua Achebe
th

himself, that she echoes more accurately by her deliberate manipulation of syntax and trope, her control of irony and suspense, and her mastery of those subtle details that build and heighten affect.”Curiously, while Professor Femi Osofisan did not substantiate his conclusion, Professor Lamikanra provided a few substantively fragile parallels which, when unable to stretch further, made him conclude thus: “The comparison between Achebe and Adichie is endless and it is interesting to note that they each published their first books at roughly the same age.” This article aims to examine the text of Purple Hibiscus much closer vis-à-vis Adichie’s voracious readership of other texts in order to fully understand her first novel. Overwhelming evidence abounds between the covers of Purple Hibiscus’ to suggest that the novel’s central preoccupation is with the conflict between Jaja and Papa-Nnuku on the one hand, and Mr. Eugene Achike on the other. Jaja’s motivation is to shield his mother from his overbearing father; Papa-Nnuku’s is to avenge the neglect that occasioned his miserable life and eventual death. These facts cancel the notion that Purple Hibiscus is a coming of age, or a girl-child story. It is, rather, a story about the spiritual conflict between good and evil, represented by these three generations of the Achike family. Spirituality is well woven into the plot of this novel, evidenced by the titles of its three major parts: “BREAKING GODS”, “SPEAKING WITH OUR SPIRITS” and “THE PIECES OF GODS”. Adichie flashes forward the story so that the novel opens in the thick of action—the account of Eugene’s nuclear family on a Palm Sunday. From the available evidence in the book, things have not only begun to fall apart by this date, they have already. Papa-Nnuku is dead. Before then, he had not been allowed into Eugene’s house; but now, in death, he resides there in Jaja’s body, haunting his prosperous Catholic son, Eugene. By Palm Sunday, Jaja is a real devil, having already poisoned his father. Hitherto, the perceptive Eugene has been suspecting Jaja, beginning from when he discovers that his children have lived under the same roof with his “heathen” father–a thing he tried hard to prevent. Kambili, the story teller, accounts: “For a moment I wondered if Papa was right, if being with Papa-Nnuku has made Jaja evil… ” The father’s interrogation of his son on Palm Sunday confirms this: “You cannot stop receiving the body of our Lord,” he said. “It is death, you know that.” Jaja replies, albeit sarcastically, that he is not the Jaja that his father knew: “Then I will die… Then I will die, Papa.” He is already dead spiritually!

The proponents of the theory that Purple Hibiscus is heavily indebted to Things Fall Aparthave lampooned the former novel for not following in the footsteps of Achebe’s reverence for traditional values—notably in his well-oiled use of proverbs. These critics ignore the fact that traditional values are not the exclusive preserve of Africans; that before Achebe’sThings Fall Apart and Arrow of God, there was George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, which powerfully exhibited life in a communal European society, with the same masterly use of proverbs. But Adichie really is not emulating Achebe in any manner or form. In her own way of flavouring Purple Hibiscus with traditional African elements, Adichie deliberately beams some flash lights on the norms of children and wife-beating with sympathetic bias. Eugene’s mugging of his wife, leading to her miscarriage; his beating and torturing of Kambili and Jaja; his other violent conducts at home notwithstanding, Adichie excuses Eugene early enough in the novel. The incident of his beating his children with a belt echoes Christ’s use of the cane in the Synagogue, when he discovered usury in his Father’s house. Here, Adichie shows Eugene admiringly as “Christ-like”. He is still human though. Kambili observes prophetically: “Papa swayed slightly, from side to side, like a person about to fall… His swaying was like shaking a bottle of Coke that bursts into violent foams when you opened it.” The Coke imagery suggests something “good”; the “bursts into violent foams when you opened it”, suggests that a fault lies beneath this “goodness” which does not show unless someone does something to unveil it. And there are several things unveiling this “outburst”: the pressure of Eugene’s struggle with the new Government; the seeming disobedience of the children and wife; and his poisoning. Eugene’s violent conduct become aggravated from the time he appears “swaying”. Although Kambili’s eyes are too young, inexperienced and limited to see his internal pains, it is clearly suggested that Eugene has more pressure than just his struggle with the new military junta that threatens his life and business. But the most persuasive excuse on behalf of Eugene, and tradition, is Amaka, one of the most admirable characters, who symbolises “Africanness”. Adichie gives this credible character the advocacy of pleading for understanding on behalf of Eugene. She said: “Uncle Eugene is not a bad man, really… People have problems, people make mistakes… some people can’t deal with stress.” And this excuse is accepted by the more intelligent and pragmatic Obiora. Perhaps, the strongest evidence of Purple Hibiscus’ “African flavour”, if ever such a thing really exists, is Adichie’s employment of the fantasy/reality mix to fully develop the novel’s plot. As noted earlier, the title of the second part of the book

is “SPEAKING WITH OUR SPIRITS”. Kambili and Jaja have a telepathic way of communicating, using their eyes. But it goes far beyond this. As the part develops, even Eugene exhibits some psychic qualities, which instruct him to keep his “heathen” father at a distance, suspecting the old man to possess evil spirits as a result of his “heathen” faith. We see Eugene in his most terrible rage when this distance is breached, causing him to rush from Abba to Nsukka to salvage Kambili and Jaja from the old man’s company. Alas, Eugene is too late. Upon Papa-Nnuku’s death, Jaja inherited his spirit in a brief and seemingly innocent ceremony when he bends down to cover the old man’s corpse. From this point on, we see a sudden passion in Jaja about matters affecting his late grandfather. Even Kambili cannot recognize her brother. Their eye-contacts become suddenly fruitless for Kambili as a sudden veil is cast over Jaja’s eyes. It is now that Eugene’s real torments begin. Jaja is transformed from a meek, young boy into a cold-blooded killer. In an earlier confirmation of the new spirit in him, he tells Kambili that “I have Papa Nnuku’s arms.” Thereafter, he confirms the evil nature of his new spirit by killing a chicken with such “precision” and a “singlemindedness that was cold and clinical”. Standing up to defy his father becomes a norm, which in turn exasperates and frustrates Eugene, accounting for the most gruesome incident of domestic violence recorded in the book. It may even be added that Kambili would have also been a victim of this spiritual transfer if she has also touched Papa-Nnuku’s corpse at the point of his death. But the influence of evil already in Jaja, together with Papa-Nnuku’s painting, have already affected her negatively, resulting in an unusual show of defiance to her father that earns her a thrashing. That lesser evil in her is finally exorcised by the boiling water incidence in the bathroom, which is more ritualistic than an informal correction process. That Jaja can have Papa-Nnuku’s arms accentuates the mystical claims of the novel. Adichie probably used it as a plausible explanation for the martyrdom of Eugene, or to justify Jaja’s action, as one life is sacrificed to pay for another that was wasted. The Greek concept of the duex ex machina [a supernatural intervention] is employed. Papa-Nnuku is already dead. But we don’t forget his smiling face at death, which complements the notion of a slow-incoming revenge over his son. Jaja becomes the emissary of Papa-Nnuku’s god, to take revenge and also rescue the family from a “wicked” head. And this is accomplished by virtue of the poisoning, and eventual death, of Eugene. Eugene’s death can be better appreciated while viewing his complex roles in the novel. He is father, husband, son, brother, uncle, in-law, parishioner, employer,

benefactor, counsellor, and more to several people. It is in his relationship with his church, business and village that Eugene’s Christ-like quality sparkles. He is a generous giver, yet very humble; caring and loving, though strict; and very truthful. He declines the Government’s bribe brought to his home in a van. It is noteworthy that even though he withholds the truth from the public [including the church] concerning the reasons for the “accidents” in his home, he does not lie about them. Eugene will pray for the forgiveness of his real or perceived enemies; he will give his killer father and son the opportunity to be saved from their sins. His actions are motivated by his own interpretation of love. His errors are excusable. Indeed, his conspiring wife had the option of leaving him to his conduct, but refuses to take it—a solid foundation to argue that his murder is unjustified. And since it is his faith crusades that eventually pitch him against his enemies, leading to his murder, it is apt to conclude that Eugene is a martyr. Purple Hibiscus is told in the first-person narrative style. The language is simple and sometimes lyrical. As stated earlier, it is an account of sights and sounds from the mouth of a quiet witness, Kambili. Kambili’s narration “envelopes” the accounts of other eye-witnesses like Mama, Aunty Ifeoma, Jaja and Ade Coker. In Adichie’s employment of the “shift in perspective” technique, Kambili’s focus is beamed beyond the seclusion of the Achike family house in Abba to the wider society. Some reviewers argue that the political sub-plot of Purple Hibiscus does not complement its main plot. This view is incorrect. It is chiefly through this sub-plot that the novel’s setting emerges. Ade Coker reminds us of the late Dele Giwa, who was bombed to death in Lagos during the Babangida military regime. By localizing this sub-plot and its drama to Abba, the setting becomes modern Nigeria as a whole. The political sub-plot also aggravates the drama in the main plot by fuelling Eugene’s stress, in this way helping to shake the “Coke bottle” and hasten the drama and the suspense that brought about his tragedy. The novel’s faults cannot be ignored. The point of view, despite its enveloping nature, is too rigid. Adichie gets too preoccupied with amplifying the unfolding drama [about half of which runs behind thick veils] through Kambili’s keen sight and hearing that she regulates Kambili so much, causing the novel one of its major weaknesses: Kambili’s ‘arrested development’. This could have been cured by the adoption of the omniscient narrative technique. The title also seems to be a fault. As is clear now, the novel is chiefly about Eugene, Jaja and Papa-Nnuku. The title, therefore, should have been something more reflective of their conflicts.

Yet, the unpardonable fault lies in the Kambili/Father Amadi sub-plot. This subplot contains no complementarity with the novel’s main plot. Secondly, despite its irrelevance to the structure, it exhibits an unacceptable level of textual relationship to Colleen McCullough’s epic and bestselling novel, The Thorn Birds, which will be examined shortly. It is apt to posit that Purple Hibiscus presents us with a conflict of good versus evil, or Catholic versus traditional faiths, or Eugene Achike versus PapaNnuku/Jaja. In the end evil overcomes. The release of Jaja from prison in the closing chapter of the book caps the pessimistic tone of Purple Hibiscus, qualifying it for classification as a dystopian novel, with Adichie clearly pitching her tent with the vanquished. Yet, a fuller understanding of Purple Hibiscus is not possible by merely examining the text. Adichie must also be examined. Who really is Chimamanda Adichie, beside what Professor Lamikanra has offered us above? For a fact, Adichie is a wide reader, quoted as saying: “Oftentimes I get questions like ‘How did you do it?’ and it’s almost as if there is some magic formula which I don’t have. The secret is simply that if you want to write well, you have to read widely.” And here lies the key to a better understanding of Purple Hibiscus. It is admitted that some instances of textual relationship exist between Purple Hibiscus and Things Fall Apart. But they are very limited, perhaps not far beyond the first sentence of Purple Hibiscus. A keener observer may even notice glimmers from Helon Habila’s Prison Stories snuggled in between its covers. However, it is indeed Colleen McCullough’s novel The Thorn Birds that chiefly influenced Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, and perhaps herself, as a writer. Like Purple Hibiscus, The Thorn Birds was written by a woman. One may mention that Adichie’s every chapter also begins with a flower image and there are those double-spacing between episodes within a chapter. Beyond the cosmetics, what are those two novels all about? According to Chicago Tribune, The Thorn Birds is about “…violence, love, piety, family roots, passion, pain, triumph, tragedy, roses…” The Herald Sunday (Portsmouth, New Hampshire), said of Purple Hibiscus: “Replete with beauty and horror, Adichie’s novel of self-hatred, fear and family…” From these critiques, some common nuts and bolts have emerged. There is the family element. The family in The Thorn Birds is a Catholic family, just as the one in Purple Hibiscus, with their respective heads – Padraic Cleary and Eugene Achike, as incurable, incorrigible Catholics. Padraic Cleary’s sister, Mary Carson doesn’t get along well with Padraic Cleary,

just as Eugene Achike’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma does not get along with Eugene Achike. Kambili of Purple Hibiscus is a near perfect clone of the shy Meghan Cleary of The Thorn Birds, with a deep attachment to her brother, Frank, from whom Jaja is cloned. The Thorn Birds offers a young and handsome Reverend Father called Father Ralph, while Purple Hibiscus offers a young and handsome Reverend Father called Father Amadi! There also are a number of episodes in The Thorn Birds that are skilfully duplicated in Purple Hibiscus, e.g., some of Meghan Cleary’s school experiences; the periodic visits of Father Ralph to Meghan Cleary’s family house; the escapades of Father Ralph and Meghan Cleary in the fields; the protective role of Frank for his mother against his father, which is duplicated in Purple Hibiscus to spin the wheels of the suspense extolled by Femi Osofisan. Yet, it is really the replication of the relationship between Father Ralph and Meghan Cleary that brings the point home on whether McCullough’s influence on Adichie has graduated beyond the cosmetics into the realms of text-lifting. Published in 1978 by Avon Books, the blurb of The Thorn Birds reads, in part, thus: “…most of all, it is the story of Meggie, who falls madly in love with a man she can never marry, and of Ralph, a truly beautiful man… whose love for Meggie Cleary will lead him to a passion he cannot control.” That Adichie’s love story between Kambili and Father Amadi reads exactly like this is an understatement. The tragedy is that Adichie would have successfully escaped with her long trek in McCullough’s shadows but for the wrong-footings, apparently under the ever growing strain of keeping pace with the twists and turns of the great Australian writer. Adichie’s disguises wash off when in her Purple Hibiscus Kambili is seventeen and passionately close to Father Amadi. Let us examine a few these many instances: The Thorn Birds, at page 162: “What’s the matter, Meggie?” “Nothing, Father.” “I don’t believe you.” Purple Hibiscus, at page 226: “What clouds your face?” Father Amadi asked…”

“Nothing.” “Tell me about the nothing, then.” The Thorn Birds, at page 221: “Fee (Meggie Cleary’s mother) didn’t answer, only sat staring in front of her…” Purple Hibiscus at page 298: “I used to ask Sisi to talk to her… but she said Mama (Kambili’s mother) would not reply her, that Mama simply sat and stared.” The Thorn Birds, at page 207: “… As he bent his head to come at her (Meggie’s) cheek she raised herself on tiptoe, and by luck than by good management touched his lips with her own. He jerked back as if he tasted the spider’s poison… he wrenched her arms from about his neck…” Purple Hibiscus, at pages 269/276: “I (Kambili) was afraid… that I would throw my hands around him and lace my fingers together behind his neck and refuse to let go … He leaned over the gear and pressed his face to mine. I wanted our lips to meet and hold, but he moved his face away…” It should be noted that the kissing episodes in both The Thorn Birds and Purple Hibiscusoccurred after the respective Reverend Fathers in the two novels revealed the facts of their going away from their lovers. Indeed, the two priests went away from both Meggie and Kambili! It is safe to assume at this point that the proponents of Adichie’s debts to Achebe have rested their cases, having realised how they have fallen prey to Adichie’s perfectly sold first-sentence dummy. It is left to address the group that champion Adichie’s “originality”, probably led by Professor Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo. This group is urged to re-evaluate its position in view of the extra-ordinary closeness that characterise the structures, characters, language and plots of these two novels – The Thorn Birds and Purple Hibiscus— which go beyond the

intertextual, beyond the acceptable limits within which one piece of literature may relate to another. SN

Ahmed Maiwada is a Nigerian writer with two collections of poetry and a recent novel, Musdoki. He practices law in Abuja, Nigeria.

8 Responses to Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s Debt to Achebe?
1. Chukwudi eboka says:
September 12, 2011 at 2:51 am

Very strong assertions and #idontknowwhatisaacistalkingabout, not very subtle. its the breadth of the keen side of a surgical knife between an expository critique and ill-intended slander and to walk that line without bloodying your feet you are going to have to do better than this. a mothers voice distracts from the sting of the doctors needle. to get away with your last sentence and assert your credibility you are going to have to do better than a defamatory article in the guise of a literary review with a couple of ridiculously generic and one at best “interesting” dialogue/narrative examples the likes of which as Whitman says, would not suffer to be found in any literary piece of a similar theme. your cuckoo clock approach at chiming loudly “murder”, waking the household and retreating to your box is unacceptable. get the two books, do a synopsis of both books, with a chapter by chapter comparism of structures, characters, language and plots. draw these parallels more accurately and more clearly and be applauded for your work. accusing a writer of (begging pardon to use the word everyone appears too cultured to use) plagiarism, which is exactly what you’ve done, is a big deal. you appear well educated and presumably well read and so i will not quicken to label your intent. you do have yet to heed my advice and redeem your credibility by doing a proper job of what can at this stage only be described as the employ of clever language and shoddily represented research to draw far reaching conclusions that only serve to defame the character of an unquestionably skillful, universally acclaimed, hardworking young writer.
Reply

2.

Elnathan says:
September 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm

The tragedy of this article is that its most serious accusation is not only carelessly made, but mostly unsubstantiated: “…extra-ordinary closeness that characterise the structures, characters, language and plots of these two novels – The Thorn Birds and Purple Hibiscus— which go beyond the intertextual, beyond the acceptable limits within which one piece of literature may relate to another.” How really does the similarity go ‘beyond the acceptable limits’ of intertextuality. Indeed what are those acceptable limits? You can find the kind of parallels he draws in any two books with any kinds of priests in fact if you look hard enough. I am tempted to look at the writer of the article himself, as he suggests we should do to understand a text. But it will yield little and end up the way this article ends up: a desperate attempt by an over active imagination to reach a wild conclusion. The writer of this article tried to sell us a dummy- a pretence at a fair reviewbefore going to what this article is really about: Adichie stole her story from far away Australia. I find this conclusion ridiculous.
Reply

3.

Eghosa Imasuen says:
September 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm

@Kuffour. Anosognosia. Cruel of you. Concerning who poisoned Eugene. A big lapse in this analysis of Purple Hibiscus. Jaja only goes to prison when he takes the blame, a few scenes after the mother has already admitted this, for killing Eugene. I would love to see how this analysis develops with this small correction. If Jaja didn’t actually kill his father, but instead took the blame to protect his mother, is he still “evil”? How do we explain his altruism with his alleged possesion by the “evil” and “angry” spirit of the grandfather? And is Papa Nnukwu “evil” because he follows the traditional ways?
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4.

Eghosa Imasuen says:

September 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Small observation. Jaja did not poison his father. The mother did and it is suggested that the househelp supplied the poison. It is explicitly stated in the scene where Kambili slaps her (or thinks of slapping); the mother admits that she had been adding poison to his food for months, ever since he put Kambili in the hospital Odd how, in the need to push your treatise that the book is about Jaja-EugenePapa Nnukwu, you ignore everything else, or relegate other evidence as null. The title Purple Hibiscus, in my reading, was supposed to highlight the coming-out of the children, in the home of their aunt, who grew these odd flowers in her garden. Maybe the original title ‘Breaking Gods’ would support your central thesis. But I am glad she chose Purple Hibiscus finally. For me, the book was about the tragedy of the Nigerian Middleclass. It is a life I have lived and I recognised the issues as being those of growing up, of good men destroyed by new-society, by the black-and-white morality of our new religions, and of a girl discovering herself. But still your article was a good read. But I disagree with it.
Reply

5.

Umezurike Chukwuemeka says:
September 7, 2011 at 2:36 am

A nice article. Disruptive and engaging.In this season of debt-ceiling, floor and everyting in between-Adichie’s readers owe you great debt, for scintillating distillation of myth and reality. Well done!
Reply

6.

Isaac says:
September 7, 2011 at 2:18 am

A great critical essay, this. Well-researched and subtle in its condemnation.
Reply

7.

Myne Whitman says:
September 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I read The Thorn Birds several times as a young adult and probably Adichie did too. But though I recognized the common thread between it and Purple Hibiscus,

I wouldn’t go as far as your last sentence. Even though your lifted lines are interesting, mostly it boils down to the use of tropes and stock characters. You’ll probably find more examples of books where a Catholic girl falls in love with a Priest if you look hard enough.
Reply

8.

A. Kuffour says:
September 5, 2011 at 8:22 am

Dan kama Maiwada, you’ve become a ‘catcher’ of phantom dragonflies in a field of thorns. One would laugh at your antics but for the cuts you’ve suffered from the thorn bushes. It’s remarkable that you’ve written this essay from memory, without actual reference to all the texts you quote and interpret, but in the interest of accuracy you ought to re-read not only Purple Hibiscus and Thorn Birds but your own article. This is suggested only in forlorn hope, nothing resolves the anosognosic’s dilemma.
Reply

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