Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday Books for Writers! Purple Hibiscus

Tuesday Books for Writers! is a series that features books that are read with a writer's eye. It is written with the hope that the more you read the better you write. And the more you write, the quicker you become a more active reader. Please contact me if you'd like to contribute a Tuesday Books for Writers! post.

Purple Hibiscus
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Read this if you are writing:
Young Adult Fiction
With dialect in dialogue
About Nigerian Culture
About religion
About abuse
From the POV of an extremely quiet character
A coming of age story

I'm not going to give you a summary of this novel because I want you to go out and read it. It captures something that can't be expressed. And I'm glad I am only here to discuss craft because I'm not sure I can adequately express what this story is truly about.

To touch on some of the points above:

I was impressed with the use of dialect and language in this book. I understood the 'rules' for how it was used. I clearly do not speak Ibibio and, yet, I 'understood' it.

Maybe I'm not as well read as I should be, but I can't recall reading a book, especially for young people, that deals with religion in this manner. Kambili, the narrator of this incredible story, comes from a strict Christian family. It explores how faith can be exploited, but it does not, can not, take one side. Every extremist belief is counterbalanced with an opposite and equally compelling viewpoint. Every character represents the different ways that faith can change the course of a life. It shows us faith at its darkest and most severe, but also at its most powerful. For good and for bad.

I was also very impressed with the fact that the narrator of this story rarely participates in dialogue. She is still part of the action in every scene but remains a constant observer. And, it is her voice that grows with her, as it does for so many people. Such a simple way to capture how young people develop. And done so well. I'm not sure I could have imagined writing a book in which the narrator barely speaks, but now I know it can be done.

Last week, I spoke about issues. I took issue with too many issues or, at least, not adequately giving them the time and space they deserve in the course of a narrative. This story takes A LOT of issues and gives them appropriate billing. And I'm talking serious issues. Religion, child abuse, paganism, colonization, race, the list goes on. None of it is gratuitous. All of it is compelling.

If there's any word I want to use when I say why you should read this book if you write, it's balance. This novel strikes a near perfect balance in every possible way. With it's beautiful prose. Within each complex, multi-layered character. With every theme. Read it and you'll see what I mean.

As a writer, this is the kind of book where you want to put down your pen. After reading it, you want to say, there is no way I could tell a story so well. And yet, it burns a fire within you, it tells you that you have to pick up a pen and write it all down as quickly as you can, with the same humanity and beauty that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does. There are a few books that I read and then say: I will follow this writer anywhere. Anywhere they want to take me. I can't wait to devour as many of her words as I can.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. There are so many things about your description of this book that make me interested in reading it. I think you recommended Marcelo in the Real World as well (which I loved). Purple Hibiscus sounds wonderful.