Book Review of Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys
My husband enjoys fiction with well-developed characters and a defined 'plot' line. The largely linear narrative of The Nickel Boys, at least for the first two sections of the story with a definite progression of events and wonderful characterisation of the protagonist, Elwood Corey, meant that I didn't hesitate to recommend The Nickel Boys to him. This isn't something I'd do lightly. My husband reads more non-fiction than fiction so is very choosy about the fiction that he invests in. The Nickel Boys is worth the investment.
The Nickel Boys traces the story of young Elwood through his childhood into his teens, growing up in Talahassee. Although abandoned by his parents, he is loved by his grandmother, and, inspired by the speeches of Martin Luther King, is determined to improve his own life circumstances.
As Elwood leaves home for a college education he, through no fault of his own, finds himself wrongfully sent to a reform school. Once there Elwood suffers untold and unimaginable horrors, but is determined to not only escape the miseries he and the other boys endure daily, but to continue to hold close the ideals and beliefs of Martin Luther King. During a spell in solitary confinement he struggles over King's equation "Be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer..." It is King's beliefs and values that underpin the novel.
On the book jacket of The Nickel Boys Alex Preston, of the Observer states that The Nickel Boys "opens up thrilling new vistas for the form of the novel itself." I began the review by suggesting that the book follows a traditional narrative structure. When reading the text Preston's comment initially surprised me. Although the book is great, it wasn't I felt ground breaking, stylistically. It was only when I had read to the very end that I realised what an absolute tour de force it is both in structure and style. The final chapters are stunning demonstrating tremendous story writing skill as the heart wrenching conclusion to events is revealed. As in The Underground Railroad Whitehead shows it is clearly not his purpose to spare the reader's feelings..
Book Discussion Questions on Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys
Did you anticipate the twist at the end of the book?
The injustices Elwood's grandmother has faced throughout her life means that, whilst she acts very bravely, she actually lives in constant fear. How does this manifest itself in the way that she raises Elwood?
Revisit the different sections of the story. Discuss how and when the narrative voice changes.
Appearance vs reality is a theme that dominates the story. Discuss when and how the theme is explored.
Why did Turner/Elwood refuse to be photographed promoting his business in front of his new offices on 125th Street?
Turner was reulctant to share Elwood's written account of what really happened in the school, but ultimately did so. Why?
What messages of hope are there in the story The Nickel Boys?
Discuss the signficance of the final line of the The Nickel Boys "He was hungry and they served all day, and that was enough."
In chapter twelve of The Nickel Boys the narrator states that there are four ways out of Nickel. Of the four tehcniques which would you choose?
The Nickel Boys illustrates the horrendous levels of racial abuse that openly existed in America during the 1950s and onwards. Moving forward, how helpful was the text for you in understanding the current "Black Lives Matter' movement?
In The Nickel Boys the weak prey upon the helpless. The level of barbarity and pre-meditated cruelty of characters such as Spencer and Hardee is wicked. Are some people simply born evil or are the reasons behind their cruelty more complex? Is it possible to, if not pardon, at least explain the reasons for their barbaric behaviour?
Did you find the ending of the book satisfactory? Why or why not?
Who is the bravest charcter in The Nickel Boys? Discuss.
We learn that Elwood had been abandoned by his mother and father who left him and went to California when he was six. Elwood's father had fought loyally for America but became embittered once he returned to civilian life where he lived in a town where black men in uniform were frequently lynched. Elwood's mother was described by his grandmother (her own mother) as weak. How do you view Elwood's parents?
What lasting impression has reading The Nickel Boys had on you?
Bookclub Questions on Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys (if you haven't read the book!)
Whilst The Nickel Boys is a work of fiction it is inspired by the real events that occurred in The Dozier School for Boys. Discuss whether you find fiction a useful means of understanding real life events. Do you have examples of other fiction books which have helped you understand real life injustices?
Discuss how you think you would respond if faced with utter adversity.
Discuss how you have been affected by the Black Lives Matter movement. How has fiction, for example The Underground Railroad, or Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age helped you understand racism from both a historical and current context?
Elwood only owns one record which plays the sermons of Martin Luther King given at Zion Hill. What speeches have you heard that have inspired your life? Or, what music have you repeatedly played that has lasting significance for you?
Personal Response to The Nickel Boys
When I read The Nickel Boys I hadn't realised that it had won the Pulitzer Prize this year. I was suprised, especially as it is was only 2017 that Colson Whitehead took the same prize for The Underground Railroad. I was pleased though. I enjoyed it and thought it a thoroughly worthy winner.
I particularly enjoyed that The Nickel Boys was historical fiction, but set relatively recently. It raised that classic question about how we continue to be blind to current injustices. It is difficult to comprehend how the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida on which the fictional Nickel was loosely based existed right up until 2011. A sobering thought. Having now read The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys I will certainly read more of Whitehead's books. I will also be investigating the Pulitzer further; it is a prize I know little about and I'm curious what criteria the shortlisted titles must meet to be considered for it.
Book Review of Kiley Reid's Such A Fun Age
As a rule I wouldn’t comment on a book cover, but the sleeve of Such a Fun Age really pulled me in. Jojo Moyes’ comment “I couldn’t put this down” promoted its accessibility. In addition, the positive comments from both the Times “A new literary star” and the Guardian “A firecracker debut” added to its appeal. The story Such a Fun Age lived up to its promise. I wasn’t disappointed and hope this reaches the Booker prize shortlist.
In Such a Fun Age the issues of what it means to be racist, who is and isn’t racist, why and how this might manifest itself is tied up in an exploration of messy real life. As such it is a fascinating read.
Context is significant in Such a Fun Age and at a time when the ‘Black Lives Matters’ campaign is making readers like myself question our own self-awareness regarding white privilege, I found myself being quite self-conscious as I read along. Normally I would simply immerse myself in a text and respond to it naturally and with confidence in my views regarding character, theme and plot.
When reading Such a Fun Age, however, I was questioning my own responses as someone experiencing ‘white privilege’ and trying to be reflective of this as I read from the perspectives of the key characters. Interestingly, Kiley Reid actually refers to raising awareness about racism in our current society within the story itself.
Regarding the plot: in brief, the main protagonist Emira is a black twenty something graduate, living in Philadelphia who is moderately disenchanted with her life. Working as a babysitter she feels left behind, earns little, but knows she is great at her job. She has a firm affection for Briar, the toddler for whom she cares, Briar is the daughter of seemingly successful and woke Peter and Alix. They are not necessarily quite all they seem and one evening they call Emira and ask her to take Briar to the mall following a disturbance in their own home. This leads to Emira being accused of kidnapping Briar and thus unleashes an unexpected chain of events during which the reader can reflect upon and challenge aspects of all the key players’ motivations and beliefs. Things come to a head when we learn that Emira’s current white boyfriend Kelley had been Alix’s first love. The relationship had ended badly with Alix being presented as racist during her time in school.
Part of the reason for responding to Such a Fun Age with some element of self-doubt is that it doesn't present characters that are archetypally villains or heroes, so is constantly demonstrating that we can all make errors of judgement whilst not being fundamentally ‘bad people’. Each character has flaws and all have some redeemable characteristics. Race is the central theme explored in the text and yet, at the same time, it almost isn’t. It is as if ‘colour’ is an external theme to which the characters all react. In Renni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race she talks about how it is only white privileged people who make the claim of everyone being at the same starting point in life. Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age proves the validity of this claim. The text is continuously presenting the actions of the different characters within a justified framework which seems legitimate to themselves. It is for the reader to either accept or refute the legitimacy of that claim. The central example of this is when Alix loses her virginity to Kelley, but almost immediately afterwards calls the police when his black friends arrive at her house. This can seem legitimate to her, but of course her narration of the events is just one narrative and not necessarily a reliable one.
Book Discussion Questions on Such a Fun Age
thebookerprizes.com/fiction/2020To what extent is it possible to read Such a Fun Age without being self reflective about how your own race, wealth or class have influenced your own life?
What are the main flaws in Alix’s character?
What are your views on why Kelly and Emira don’t reconcile once he is proven to be basically ‘right’ about Alix?
It is when Emira realises that she is the only one of her friendship group who is still on their parents’ health insurance policy that she reflects on her lack of financial and career success. She knows that she is being ‘left behind’ yet doesn’t seem to be able to quite do anything about her prospects. What are the factors stopping her becoming richer and more successful?
Which of the characters in the book do you most identify with and why?
What are the reasons for Alix’s ‘friendship crush’ on Emira?
In the story Such a Fun Age we see the significance of ‘first love’ and how it can affect a person’s whole future. We also see how unreliable personal narrations of first love can be. How much, if any sympathy do you have for Alex as a teenager? Can she be forgiven for calling the police?
In the story, Kiley Reid comments that Kelly gravitated towards black cool kids at school and that he always has black girlfriends. Reid has Emira express how grown up she feels having an older white boyfriend who doesn’t buy his furniture from Ikea. Discuss what this reveals about Emir, Kelley and society at large.
Both Kelly and Alix wanted to share the video of the racist incident involving Emira and Briar in the grocery store even though Emira doesn’t want to. What are their motivations for wanting to put the video on social media?
Both Alix and Emira rely a lot on their female friends for companionship and validation of their life choices and decisions. Do you think their friends let them down at any point in this story?
Is it possible to argue that Alix truly believed that she was genuinely helping Emira by sharing the video clip?
Peter is probably the least ‘fleshed out’ character in this story. Discuss whether any significance should be attached to this.
Discuss the importance of the final line of Such a Fun Age “Emira would carry the dread that if Briar ever struggled to find herself, she’d probably just find someone to do it for her.”
Kelly and Alix both assume that they know what is best for Emira, regarding how she should respond to the racist attack on her in the shopping centre. Discuss.
The exploration of racism and prejudice are dominant themes in Such A Fun Age. What other issues are also significant? How do they manifest themselves?
Discuss what you understand by the term ‘white privilege’. Review how it is central in the story Such a Fun Age.
Can Alix’s growing awareness of her own ‘white privilege’ be used as any kind of excuse for her errors of judgement?
Alix accuses Kelly of being racist. Is he? Discuss.
Would you like to see this book win the 2020 Booker Prize? Why or why not?
Bookclub Questions on Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age (If you haven't read the book!)
The initial incident in the shopping centre where Emira was accused of kidnapping Briar was the result of a suspicious white shopper who jumped to outrageous conclusions based on various prejudices and assumptions surrounding not only race, but also class, wealth and appearance. Do you have incidents of friends being similarly wrongly judged simply because they are not white and/or other assumptions? Alternatively are you prepared to admit instances of when you have jumped to conclusions based on prejudices and assumptions that you may have?
How aware are you of what ‘white privilege’ is and what it means?
When writing these questions I felt very self-conscious, as a white middle-aged woman, about whether they are appropriate or whether I am revealing any unconscious prejudice that I might have. I would hope I am not racist, yet not having experienced racism myself makes me cautious about commenting about it. How comfortable are you discussing issues of race?
Have you read Why I’m No Longer Talking About Race? Did you find it a valuable read? Why or why not?
How important is an individual’s nationality or cultural background when interpreting text?
Further Comment on Kiley Reid's Such a Fun Age
Whilst the issues explored in Such a Fun Age can never simply stop mattering and Emira’s life journey doesn’t suddenly stop, the story does have a definite end. Loose ends are, by and large, tied up which is quite pleasing for the reader. On one level, Such a Fun Age is an easy read. The writing style is enjoyable and has a light touch that pulls the reader in. On a different level though the book is a challenge and raises as many questions as it answers. The complexity of this really appealed to me.
Exploring how to be positive and patient
I’ve written before about being positive and as a rule I’m quite good at keeping a glass half-full approach to life. Remembering to be grateful and kind is key. I have to admit though that in the last couple of weeks I’ve struggled to be patient or positive. At times it has felt like “I’ve had to fake it to make it.” As Brene Brown would say in the Gifts of Imperfections, which I've mentioned before, I’ve needed to ‘dig deep’.
Somehow ‘digging deep’ seems to have worked and when I woke up this morning it felt almost like a switch had flipped and I could see things more positively.
Looking for the Positives
July has brought both ups and downs.
On the plus side, and it is a big plus, my lovely Saint Mick of Thana is back in Beech Close full time. At the risk of gushing, he is the kindest, most quietly supportive fellow I could ever wish for. On the downside he snores a lot.
It is sad not to have said a proper goodbye to Bangkok, but we can perhaps return there one day. In the meantime I’ve got all my friends’ Facebook photos of them hopping from one beach to another as a means of reminding me of how lovely Thailand is – grrrr… not jealous at all! I say that tongue-in-cheek as I know many of them would have much preferred to travel home and see their family this summer and are actually making the best of their own difficult situations.
These incredibly cute photos of my friend's little girls and her husband doing a nappy car change reminded me how travelling with infants can be a bit full on. You need to pack everything except the kitchen sink!
Getting Better after Health Concerns
We have had a couple of health setbacks this month. My dad’s foot had become infected whilst at his rehab centre and he had to be admitted to hospital. This was a good call as intravenous antibiotics are quick and effective. It has been a challenge though. Poor communication and missing x-ray paperwork meant he had to stay in hospital longer than was strictly needed. Having said that some of the teams up at the hospital have been brilliant. Looking back at my blog I was writing about the NHS and my dad’s health about a year ago. I am afeared middle age is making me repetitive!
The noisy hospital environment is not good for my dad’s well being so I felt ridiculously relieved to finally get him moved back to rehab late on Wednesday night. The hundred plus phone calls (largely to an automated generated machine who couldn’t understand me), and the missing sets of newly bought clothing I took in for him faded away into insignificance.
A big positive is that dad’s new room in the rehab centre has a window, so for the first time in a month we were able to go wave to him yesterday. Dad looked tired but quite well considering the trauma of the last couple of weeks. He gave us a smile and a wave. Dad seems to have left hospital ‘sans hearing-aid’ so this week’s task is to get a new one organised. Once more … grrrrrr….
Little did my dad know that at the same time he was back in hospital he had one of his granddaughters just down the corridor from him in a different ward. My typically understated and calm Annie found herself in tons of pain with what we thought was a kidney infection, but what turned out to be a kidney stone. There followed three nights in hospital. Her main response was that she was ‘relieved she hadn’t been making a fuss or being melodramatic for nothing.”
Annie is now back home recuperating on the sofa and doing lots of extra hours for her virtual internship to make up for the time she missed during her stay in hospital. She is resilient, funny and kind and makes me proud. That’s a lot to be positive about.
With all this ill-health Mick and I didn’t manage to get to go down to Torquay as planned. This was disappointing as we had hoped to surprise my lovely friend Carolyn who lives down there, but there will be other opportunities to see her.
I have had some lovely reminders this week of how lucky I am to have some great friends.
Carolyn sent the girls and me these lovely hearts to which cheered us up no end. Another great friend Jackie and her gorgeous son Bill sent me a pampering set. I’m looking forward to closing the bathroom door (in this overcrowded bungalow!) and having a lovely quiet relaxing bath. As I light a candle with a relaxing and soothing scent, I’ll also perhaps indulge myself with a nice cup of one of the specialist teas my other dear friend Rachel sent me a couple of weeks ago.
My friends are a tower of support and for that I’m very grateful. The gifts are an added bonus which just prove how spoiled I am!
Despite our aborted trip to Torquay it isn’t all gloom and doom for the Flint Smith family re holidays. Annie did manage to get to Spain for a week to collect her belongings. I think that was bittersweet for her, so I’m pleased she has come back home to us before heading back to London in September. Betsy has also managed a little mini-break with her boyfriend. They opted to go to Liverpool. I’m not really sure why, but they seem to have had fun.
Trying to be Patient
I am naturally quite a self-reflective person and in recent years I’ve been surprisingly positive. I don’t think, however, I need to dig particularly deep to discover that I am not a patient person. I always want things completing ‘yesterday’. I think this is partly why this further setback for my dad has been so frustrating. It is, of course, much more challenging for him and my mum. They don’t deserve it.
These last few months have felt a little crazy. We need to be patient just a little bit longer regarding the timescale of getting my dad home to mum. We’ve had a small blip, but can now look forward positively. We are back on track though and that’s a big positive. Some things we simply can’t change, so as my mum says, “what can’t be cured must be endured.”
A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have predicted that the whole family would be back living in the UK, not currently working and coming out the other side of a global health pandemic. We have got through it so far and are so much luckier than many people.
I have had the huge bonus of having the girls at home with me all through lockdown. I’ve had several months of enjoying their company and not having to worry at all about everything that comes alongside their living away from home. I know that they can’t stay forever, but I’ve got them a little bit longer yet. That’s a massive positive for me.
We’ve got some figuring out of our future to do, but there’s no rush. Mick is enjoying being able to see more of his mum and dad. I even heard talk of him picking up a paintbrush over at their house!
Once the girls have returned to their lives, (which I guess they do have to!) I’ll still have my Saint Mick of Beech Close here with me. For now, I’ll hold on to that as the biggest positive of all.
Book Review of Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race
Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race was first published in 2017. It shares a title with a blog post she published in 2014, but wrote in 2012 with the same title. She explains how she doesn't wish to discuss race with those white people who are defensive about their 'own white privlege and those white people who don't even believe that it exists. With such a strong opening the reader (if white) is immediately required to reflect on their own attitudes towards racism and forced to confront what may be uncomfortable for them.
The irony of Eddo-Lodge's claim that she isn't talking about race, when she spends most of her working life doing just that in the white publishing world isn't lost on her. Neither is the knowledge that she is inevitably going to have the reprisals and character assassinations that come from the discussion of race. Eddo-Lodge is rightly angry and forceful.
In Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race Eddo-Lodge clearly shows the legitimacy of the claim that structural racism and its symptoms continue to be rampant in today's society. She does though express hope as she describes how in 2017 she felt that, despite the continuation of far right political progress, the world climate was finally ready to discuss racism. The current popularity of this text must, of course, be related to the 'Black Lives Matter' movement. Eddo-Lodge's claim in the final sentence of ther book 'It's happening right now' was, at the time of publishing, an incredibly accurate prediction of the imminent future
The structure of the text cleverly separates issues into topics in order to enable the reader to consider specific aspects of racism before bringing it back together in order to demonstrate the wider picture of the origins and continuaton of structural racism at all societal levels. Why I am No Longer Talking To White People about Race is a very comprehensive account of the history of racism. It's chapters on how racism needs to be considered specifically when exploring issues relating to women and class had me reeling. Eddo-Lodge skilfully shows how even in these marginal groups racism exists.
Even though, the time is, I think, ripe for the success of Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race it is currently attaining, it wouldn't be popular if it wasn't so honest and accessible. Eddo-Lodge is quick to admit her own failings and concerns. For example, she questions whether it is appropriate to use the Grenfell Tower Disaster to prove a point when the grief that people are feeling is so raw. This openness and tiny glimpses of self-doubt makes Eddo-Lodge very readable. That's not to say that she is a beacon of humble self-effacement. She is a strong, forceful powerful women whose angry voice rightly asserts itself through the pages.
Book Discussion Questions on Why I'm No Longer Talking To White Poeple About Race
These questions are all based on an acceptance that structural racism and white privilege exists.
How did the title make you feel? Could you relate to the sentiment expressed?
Did you learn anything from Reni-Eddo's book that you hadn't known before?
What was the value to you of reading Why I'm No Longer Talking About Race to White People?
Do you think many people will read this book and completely dispute the validity of the arguments made in it?
If Reni-Eddo was here now what would you ask her?
Having read the book what do you think white privilege means?
Do you think anyone can be completely without prejudice?
Do you think you or 'people' more generally would respond differently to the book if it was written by a man?
Is it uncomfortable discussing this book in a bookclub environment? Why is this?
if the movement is happening now how will you contribute to it? Discuss?
Is there anything you disagree with in Eddo-Lodge's account of society?
Do you think there will be many book groups discussing this text? Why or why not?
How would you describe Reni Eddo Lodge's character?
What chapter of the book did you find most revealing and interesting? Why?
What emotions did you feel as you read the book?
Has reading this book changed your perception about racism? How? Will it change your behaviour?
Is age an excuse for racism?
How would you respond to someone who rejects the 'black Lives Matter' statement by claiming that 'all lives matter?
If you are a white person do you feel that reading Eddo-Lodge's book has helped give you a platform for discussing racism more freely? Why or why not?
Wold you like to explore how different members of the groups' experiences regarding racism have been different? What can you learn from each other?
If structural racism pervades our society what can you do to help eradicate it?
Is it possible to feel as passionately about inequality if you are not experiencing it?
Personal Response to Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race
One reading of Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race is not enough. A second reading allows the reader to assimilate and reflect calmly on the points that the reader reacts emotionally to the first time through For anyone who is struggling to really accept the extent of racism that underpins our modern world this book is a real eye-opener. Eddo-Lodge has claimed that white guilt isn't helpful and rather it is white action that is required. She is right but it is hard to not dwell on the guilt. This was an important point for me to consider.
This powerful, focused book on race is the first about this issue that I've seen become a best-seller. It is an essential read,
Book Review of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus
I absolutely adore Adichie's books, so it was a joy to revisit Purple Hibiscus.
The story is told by fifteen year old Kambili whose father, Eugene, is a wealthy business man and prominent public figure. He takes huge personal risks in publishing stories in his newspaper, The Standard, that challenge the actions of the Nigerian government. In addtion, Eugene donates considerable sums to worthy charitable organisations and local families. He is a staunch Catholic and rejects wholeheartedly anything he considers heathen. This includes his own father who is a follower of traditional beliefs. Within his own household, however, Eugene is a cruel tyrant subjecting Kambili, her brother Jaja and her mother to horrendous physical and pyschological abuse.
Using an extended flashback Adichie tells the story of the events which lead to Jaja standing up to his father. He does this at first by not going to church. This act of rebellion initially seems like the 'resolution' of the story, but it is in fact followed by an additional section of text which reveals far more serious repercussions which then begin to unfold.
Through the voice of Kambili we are able to hear the power that abusers have over their victims. What makes Purple Hibiscus so fascinating is Adichie's clever portrayal of the complexity of Eugene's character. Whilst the reader primarily simply wants the abuse to end (in this respect it is similar to Tara Westover's Educated) they are also fascinated by Eugene. Interestingly Eugene's sister, Auntie Ifeoma doesn't demonstrate any of the same cruel traits of character. She is seen as intelligent, open minded, poor and political.
In Purple Hibiscus we investigate religion, hypocrisy, politics, charity and culture. These are big issues which run alongside an almost separate 'rites of passage' story where we see Kambili fall in love with an unobtainable priest, Father Amadi.
The characterisation is fabulous in this story, the structure is effective and the political insight fascinating for anyone interested in Nigeria. Like all first person narratives, with an unreliable narrator, it is fascinating to consider the portrayal of character from alternate perspectives. What I found particularly interesting was how little space was given to exploring Kambili's mother's thoughts.
The only thing I'd change in Purple Hibiscus is affording a little more time to finding out what happens next, after Jaja's release from prison. Perhaps there might be a sequel one day.
Book Discussion Questions on Adichie's Purple Hibiscus
What do you think are the reasons for Eugene's behaviour?
What similarities can you see between Eugene and his sister? What is your opinion of Aunt Ifeoma's parenting style?
Jaja was convicted for the crime, not his mother? The narrator says that no one believed her confession. What do you think?
Why did Jaja take the blame for the murder of his father?
Kimbali's grandfather is known as a heathen to Eugene and a traditionalist to his sister. What does this difference in viewpoints reveal about their different attitudes to religion?
How is Father Amadi different to missionaries that Eugene and Auntie encountered when they were young?
Is there anything to reproach about Father Amadi's behaviour?
What different types of inequalities are explored in the novel?
In the novel there are numerous instances of things not being what they seem. What examples can you think of where the appearance of events differs to the reality? Explore the significance of this?
What do the purple hibiscus symbolize?
Father Benedict is still considered to be the new priest, even though he has been in the role for seven years. This is, according to Kambile because he is white. Discuss the concept of being an outsider both in relation to this specific story and in literature more generally?
The story is set against the backdrop of political instability. Auntie Ifeoma is likely to leave Nigeria and move to America. This is criticized by her friends who claim that she will become a second class citizen in America. Discuss.
Bookclub Questions on Adichie's Purple Hibiscus (if you haven't read the book!)
Adichie has written a small book (I was lucky enough to have my school Headteacher agree to give copies to all Year 12 students) where she outlines her views of feminism. I've linked to the clip in this post and the full transcript. It is utterly brilliant. If you have time watch or read this Ted Talk of We Should All be Feminists before your bookclub meeting and discuss its importance.
Adichie's book. won what was then known as the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Purple Hibiscus.. The prize has since ceased to exist in the format it was in. This is what Salman Rushdie said about the prize. “Isn’t this the very oddest of beasts… a school of literature whose supposed members deny vehemently that they belong to it? Worse these denials are simply disregarded! It seems the creature has taken on a life of its own,” Discuss your views on 'the Commonwealth'.
Eugene is descirbed as being too much the product of colonialism. Regardless of if you have read the book discuss what do you think this means?
Discuss the idea of using religion to justify controversial beliefs and actions.
It is through gardening and helping his aunt that Jaja starts to find a strength and purpose to his existence. What activity has helped you through difficult times
At different points in this story Kambili has all of her beliefs challenged. Have you ever felt the ground shift under your feet and lose everyhing you believed in? Would you like to share what happened?
Kimbala's cousin is prejudiced against her because she has wealth and a seemingly privileged lifestyle. Have you ever allowed your own prejudices and jealousies to stop you seeing the truth of a situation?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a first person narrative when writing fiction?
Personal Response to Adichie's Purple Hibiscus
I remember when I read Purple Hibiscus the first time I was fascinated by the connections Adichie made, to Achebe's Things Fall Apart. I was fascinated that she actually spent part of her childhood living in Achebe's house - so cool! My first reading of Purple Hibiscus focused a lot on considering how colonialism was explored through the book. I think I felt that Adichie somehow was a figurehead for all modern Nigerian literature. Hardly fair on my part!
In this reading of Purple Hibiscus I spent less time exploring whether this was a modern take on the themes specific to 'post-colonail literature' and more time reflecting on the theme of domestic abuse that dominates the story.. This highlighted for me how we bring different things or priorities to the reading of a book. There is no such thing as objectivity. I absolutely loved revisiting Purple Hibiscus. it served to remind me what a top class writer Adiche is. I now need to re-read all of her books, especially Half of a Yellow Sun, which was one of the books I wrote on in my dissertation for a Masters Degree in English.