Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Published April 17th 2012 by Algonquin Books (first published October 30th 2003)
Buy it here:

Synopsis:

Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.

As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.

Purple Hibiscus is an exquisite novel about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the powerful bonds of family, and the bright promise of freedom.

Review:
2003 was a year overpowered by huge book releases, particularly the fifth Harry Potter book and The DaVinci Code. In the midst of all of this, Purple Hibiscus is released, flies pretty much under the radar, but becomes the start of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s important and spellbinding career. Her subsequent books have made her influential and well-regarded, but this debut should not be overlooked when discussing her canon. Sure Half of the Yellow Sun and Americanah are more recognized (the latter being developed for an HBO series releasing later this year), but her debut is still important, still relevant, still an amazing work that should be read.

The novel centers around 15 year old Kambili and her trying to navigate the world that is rapidly changing. Besides the Nigerian government being in turmoil, her brother is at odds with her father and her father causes tension in the entire house. Her life and the lives around her continue to fall apart as the story moves on, and there are times when Kambili is trying to understand a world that is almost too grown up for her to understand. There are many times when she is part of conversations that she does not exactly comprehend, and the solutions that she comes up with are not as simple as she thinks. Many of those characters that influence her life on a daily basis are not good for her, but she is not old enough to leave them behind. The biggest villain in all of this is her father.

Eugene Achike is one of the scariest villains I have ever read. He owns factories, runs a political newspaper, is a devout Catholic, gives freely to charity, orphanages, and the church, and he is also the catalyst to the violence, rage, and abuse in the house. There is not a single scene where I cannot feel the fear, the fear that one of his children will say something or do something that he does not agree with, and the wait from the public space to the private home is excruciating. I can feel the tension when Kambili or her brother Jaja offends him in one way or another, to the point where I am as afraid of his wrath as his children and his wife. The juxtapose of his public image versus his private actions is incredible, and he is a character that most likely could not be written by most writers. If someone is to ask me what makes Ms. Adichie such a talented author or even how to write a great villain, I would use Papa as my first example.
There are so many early works by so many different authors I need to read, and I have had Purple Hibiscus for a long time. Even though I finished this novel close to 17 years after it’s first release, this is a story that is timeless, that it has aged gracefully. It is an important piece of literature that will always be worth the time.

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Review: Fire Sermon by Jamie Quantro

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Hardcover, 224 pages
Published January 9th 2018 by Grove Press
Original Title
Fire Sermon
ISBN
0802127045 (ISBN13: 9780802127044)
Edition Language
English
Buy it Here:

Barnes and Noble

IndieBound

 

Synopsis:

Married twenty years to Thomas and living in Nashville with their two children, Maggie is drawn ineluctably into a passionate affair while still fiercely committed to her husband and family. What begins as a platonic intellectual and spiritual exchange between writer Maggie and poet James, gradually transforms into an emotional and erotically charged bond that challenges Maggie’s sense of loyalty and morality, drawing her deeper into the darkness of desire.

 

Review:

There are some moments toward the end of this short novel that makes the reader pause and think about the way the world is structured, the way relationships and marriage works, and how everything has a purpose. The novel focuses on Maggie, a devoted Christian woman who has had a long marriage, two kids, and now finds herself emailing and talking to James, a poet whom she initially writes to because she admires his work. The relationship gets convoluted, and they end up meeting. The plot of the story is nothing that has not been heard or read before, and the structure, in form of emails, flashbacks, and stream of conscious type explorations, is nothing new either. What makes Fire Sermon really stick out is the writing, the insights and philosophy, and the sheer beauty of some of the thoughts and insights. 

 

Two thoughts have really stuck out in my mind since reading this, both of them pertain to Maggie and how she views God within this situation. She has met with James, she has stayed with Thomas, and she is wrestling with whether or not to confess her indiscretions. She thinks there has to be the reason for her attraction for a man outside of her marriage, and this could be God’s purpose for marriage as a whole: to narrow your focus so that you can appreciate and enjoy the things outside of this focus a little more. This idea is one of those I am not sure I grasp completely, but it has left a lasting impression on me, and I am continuing to think about it days later. 

 

The second comes from one of the last paragraphs in the novel.

 

God. Who neither slumbers nor sleeps, who looks not as man looks, who sees the guiltiest swervings of the weaving heart: You never loved me as you did last night. As you do now.  (p. 201)

 

This alludes to the night that Maggie and James spend together, and there are two things that really stick out about this passage. One is that she feels as if God, even though He sees the imperfection of the situation, gives her one of the best nights of her life, even though it is a horrible sin. Infidelity is the only excusable reason for divorce in the Bible, and even though this is exactly what Maggie and James do, Maggie feels like God understands and gave her exactly what she needs. The second thought is that God does love her more in a certain instance than as a whole, that she feels as if this entire situation was given to her out of God’s love, and she is grateful. 
I am not a religious person, and I do not really have opinions on whether this is right or wrong, but I do find it to be an interesting idea. I do feel as if the religious aspect of this novel could be a turnoff to some, but I also feel like Maggie’s Christianity is not the religion of the Evangelicals. Hers is more of a personal relationship, based in the sermons and philosophies of the old thinkers and not of the Megachurch set. This makes the themes of God and relationships with God much more tolerable. Add this to Quatro’s beautiful sentences and passages, and Fire Sermon is an incredible experience.

 

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Review: The Ten Loves of Nishino by Hiromi Kawakami

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Paperback, US edition, 240 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by Europa Editions (first published 2003)
Original Title
ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 [Nishino Yukihiko No Koi To Bōken]
ISBN
1609455339 (ISBN13: 9781609455330)
Buy it here:

Amazon,  

Barnes and Noble

IndieBound

 

Synopsis:

Following The Nakano Thrift Shop, Hiromi Kawakami’s breakout success, comes a new novel full of charm, subtlety, and style by an author whose readership in Japan numbers in the millions.

Each woman in this book has succumbed, even if only for an hour, to that seductive, imprudent, and furtively feline man who managed to glide so naturally into their lives. But who really was Mr. Nishino?

Still clinging to the vivid memory of his warm breath, his indecipherable silences, and his nonchalance, ten women who have loved him tell their stories as they attempt to recreate the image of the unfathomable and seemingly unattainable Mr. Nishino. Through accounts that are full of humor, intelligence, and the bittersweet joys of love, these women evoke Nishino’s image but reveal themselves. Each perspective is both captivating and sensual, droll but important, and each is a variation on themes of love and identity. 

 

Review:

While I was reading through this novel, which is sort of an interconnection of stories told by the lovers of Yukihiko Nishino, some of them only meeting him for an hour, others having a relationship with him, all of them telling their perceptions of the things that he gave them. The stories are almost chronological, and as I was reading, I started to wonder what it was about Nishino that draws him into being a compelling character. He does not have more lovers than the average adult Japanese male, and even though he has these relationships, work still takes up most of him time (in most cases). So it comes down the facts that Nishino is a mystery to the reader just like he is a mystery to the women.

 

Nishino goes through his life, meeting and sleeping with women, and even though he gets older, his modus operandi does not change; he feels like he cannot love women, and then when they are about the end things, he proposes marriage to several of them. There are few variations on the theme, and this might be his true self coming through, that when he is with someone he does not want to commit, until it is almost over, but the truth is deeper than that, that there is not a fear loneliness or loss that makes him cling onto these lovers. The fact is once the marriage proposals are turned down or seen as bluffs, he leaves and they never see him again. It is as if Nishino does not tell anyone the truth, but tells the same lie. 

 

The chapters and stories are not too long, and the translation makes this feel conversational and casual, which also makes for an easier read. I had not read Hiromi Kawakami’s previous work, but this is a very good introduction and testament to her work. I look forward to reading more. 

I received this as an ARC from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Nail House by Gregory Baines

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Paperback
Published August 1st 2019 by Fairlight Books
Original Title
The Nail House
ISBN
1912054965 (ISBN13: 9781912054961)
Edition Language
English
Buy it at : Amazon
Synopsis:
Lindon, an Australian project manager with a failed marriage behind him, is lured to China with the promise of a lucrative salary. His task: to solve the problem of a ‘Nail House’, the home of a stubborn old man who refuses to relocate, even as the bulldozers move in and the skyscrapers grow around him.

But as Lindon negotiates with the old man’s family, he finds sense where there is none. And love where there is war.

Review:

I was driving to work tonight, at about six at night. Since it is the middle of November, the sky was pitch black but the stars were still sleeping. My work is almost an hour away, on a straight drive down the same 70 mph highway every day, passing the same gas stations, the same pastures, the same corn and bean fields, the same junkyard, the same four McDonald’s, and the same beat down old restaurant that had not been a restaurant in over ten years. Besides some broken down and boarded up windows and a speed trap some time mornings. Tonight there were four pickup trucks, lined up, running with parking lights on, and I could not help but think that this was some sort of construction worker conspiracy, trying to get a land holdout to give up their property so that this can be redeveloped.
This reflects part of the plot of “The Nail House”, by Gregory Baines. The main character, Lindon, is brought into China by a corporation and his only job is to get rid of the tenants of a nail house that is holding up the progress of the corporation’s developments. Lindon sees quickly that he is in over his head, but he really does not have much other option but to be successful. The owner of the nail house, the house that he needs to convince the owner to sell, is fighting for his pride more than anything. His daughter, Zhen, wants nothing more than to be done with the entire situation but her thoughts are more geared toward running away with her fiancee, Sun, than to find a solution. When she meets, Lindon, the plot becomes more convoluted with emotions and empathy instead of just fighting. This novella is interesting and light, with a well constructed plot and good characters. 

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While I was looking for images of the cover of this book, I found pictures of actual nail houses in China, actual people who are doing the things that make this plot more tied to real issues than just an idea that does not exist. Some of the pictures of the nail houses are crazy in their isolation, where the construction company has ripped out everything around the house and there is no way for the occupants to do anything other than survive. The thing that I could have used more in this book is the feeling of displacement by Lindon, spending a little more time focusing on his struggling to understand Chinese culture and making mistakes due to his lack of stability in this situation. Even though this was sort of thin, the entirety of the book was enjoyable. Weeks after reading it, I still see conspiracy and terror in a line of trucks parked in the middle of the night at an old abandoned restaurant. They were probably doing something like selling drugs to one another, but I like to think it was because they were getting ready to go sabotage a work site or a corporate obstruction.

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Review: It Would Be Night In Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo

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Translated by Elizabeth Bryer
Hardcover, 240 pages
Expected publication: October 15th 2019 by HarperVia (first published March 7th 2019)
Original Title
La hija de la española
ISBN
0062936867 (ISBN13: 9780062936868)
Edition Language
English

Synopsis:

Told with gripping intensity, It Would be Night in Caracas chronicles one woman’s desperate battle to survive amid the dangerous, sometimes deadly, turbulence of modern Venezuela and the lengths she must go to secure her future.

In Caracas, Venezuela, Adelaida Falcon stands over an open grave. Alone, except for harried undertakers, she buries her mother–the only family Adelaida has ever known.

Numb with grief, Adelaida returns to the apartment they shared. Outside the window that she tapes shut every night—to prevent the tear gas raining down on protesters in the streets from seeping in. When looters masquerading as revolutionaries take over her apartment, Adelaida resists and is beaten up. It is the beginning of a fight for survival in a country that has disintegrated into violence and anarchy, where citizens are increasingly pitted against each other. But as fate would have it, Adelaida is given a gruesome choice that could secure her escape.

Filled with riveting twists and turns, and told in a powerful, urgent voice, It Would Be Night in Caracas is a chilling reminder of how quickly the world we know can crumble.

Review:

It Would Be Night in Caracas starts with a simple plot: a single woman is burying her mother. She goes back to the apartment that they shared and starts to deal with the process of grief. The problem is that she lives in Caracas, Venezuela, and it is quickly apparent that every day there is one filled with danger. From vigilante groups ran by the government, vigilante groups fighting against the government groups, money that is not worth the paper it is printed on, food shortages, and a thriving black market, the world that Karina Sainz Borgo describes is one that I cannot even wrap my head around. Some people might be put off by the description of how the main character, Adelaida Falcón, gets supplies for her period, or how she hears gunshots all through the night and learns that more of her neighborhood acquaintances have either disappears or been killed throughout the night, but I see this as a reality I do not understand. I see this as a novel of a person who is trying to go about her business in a turbulent climate, hiding out in her apartment, trying to stay quiet while listening to the noise on the outside, until the noise comes to find her. This novel tries to juxtapose the difference between the relative safety of Adelaida feels in the apartment and the chaos outside until the two meet and she has to make decisions that will affect her life but be instrumental to her survival. The tension of the novel picks up in the second half, and I really do feel the nerves that she is feeling. The tightness of the writing makes the urgency feel stronger, and the ending, though it seems as if she does not know how to end the novel for a few pages, does end satisfying.

I enjoyed this novel. It feels tense and dangerous.  I thought the end kind of dragged a little bit, but this is the only complaint I can find. It Would Be Night in Caracas is otherwise one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I received this as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday Fiction: We Are All Made of Stars

Every Friday I write a story based or insired by a song. This week, the song came after the start of the story. “We All Made of Stars,” by Moby popped into my head while writing. Check it out.

When she left me to start training for the space station, she told me that it was probably best if we just broke up. She said, “I don’t know how good of a girlfriend I’ll be these next few years. I have a year of training then will be in space for a long time after that. And this is if things go well. It might take me longer to get through training. It might take the next crew longer before they are able to take off and relieve us.” She didn’t want to say it, but her face told me that she was also thinking about the possibility og being the victim of equipment failure, that a rocket could explode or the space station oxygen systems could break down. The probabilities of her dying were much higher than most other people in the world. None of this mattered. Alli was one of those women that everyone was attracted to, even when they didn’t want to be. She was tall and thin, with strong arms and legs, small breasts and ass, but all of the personality that told you it made sense for her to be in space.

I let her explain why she was trying to do this to me, that by breaking up, she was giving me a chance to find someone else. I said, “I don’t want someone else. I will wait for you to conquer the stars and come back to conquer me.” She kissed me, and maybe this was the test I was taking and I passed. While she packed her things into my car the morning she was report to training, I watched her shove her bags into the trunk and thought that this was going to be a long, lonely few years, but it would be worth it.

We saw each other sporadically through training, a weekend here, a few hours there, and those moments were wonderful and cherished. During her first few months in space, while I waited for a time when she could video call me, those memories were all I really had to lean on. We had one video call, less than five minutes, before the Civil War started.

There were many events leading to the second fracture in our country, many things that would be taught in history books for generations to come, if there were any more generations in the United States. All government resources refocused toward the war effort, and since water and food was renewable on the space station, Alli and the other American astronauts were somewhat forgotten. We were not able to use video calls anymore and we limited to emails. She was getting more and more distressed by the situation. “I’m tired,” she said. “I’m tired of all of the uncertainty, of the routine every day, of eating the same food over and over, and I’m tired of not being able to have someone in my arms when I fall asleep. This is what I miss about you most. Your arms.”

I told her that I missed her too, and I really did, not only as a companion but as someone who could help me navigate all of the current events. There was a movement of people gathering in Atlanta, with the idea to burn the south all of the way to the White House where they would lynch the rich man-child in the oval office, and the crowd was growing stronger every day. With a curfew, it was now unsafe to be out after dark, and honestly I didn’t want to face this world anymore without her. I said, “Is there a way to get a ride on a ship from another country?”

She said, “I’ve been asking, but I’ve also been told that leaving here without permission is akin to deserting my post, and there isn’t anyone in charge telling us what to do. We are kind of stuck in this limbo.”

I tried to go to the headquarters of the sppace program, so that I could get some answers, but without any sort of credentials, I was turned away by the military guard at the gate. The only real option was to wait for the war to be over. “I don’t see any end in sight,” I emailed her. “It seems as if things are only getting worse every day.” We were not able to video call, but I was able to send her pictures in my emails. I took many selfies, many pictures of me lying in bed, my arms outstretched, waiting for her to return to me.

She said, “The pictures make me miss home so much, make me miss you so much. I think about you and about earth all of the time. I wish I could change things. Some of the lights are starting to flicker and I think some of the motors are starting to wear out. We need parts and tools. We have a 3D printer, and we could make the parts, but nobody is there to send the programs. I need to find a way home before it’s too late.”

I tried to think of what I could do to help. The only option was to figure out a way to Russia, to talk to the embassy there. The problem was that the US was in such disarray that I was unable to get a passport. My only option was to sneak into Canada, find my way to Alaska, and slip over the Baring Strait. They say this was how the indigenous Americans came here, so it made sense to me that I would find my way to save someone’s life in a reverse journey. I had to get her home. Any way possible.

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Friday Fiction: Hold Back

I have been writing a piece of fiction inspired by a song every Friday. This Friday’s story is based on “Hold Back” by The Revival Hour. This is not the story I planned to tell. Not that it is too different. It is just that it ends where I felt it should end versus where I thought it would end when I started the first draft. I love this song. It breaks my heart every time I hear it. Check it out. 

 

Brent read stories online about Mt. Everest. Since the ice has been melting, they have found more and more dead bodies of climbers that have been missing for years. Brent took in a deep breath because Cheryl was still up there, still somewhere on Mt. Everest, still lost after thirty years, still running away from him and the idea of settling down. He closed the browser and closed his eyes to the tears. Every day he tried not to think about Cheryl every day, but in his heart he knew she was one of the people that was now waiting to come off of the mountain. Brent was going to get her.

The last time he saw Cheryl was 1983. They had been dating for almost a year, every day being a shorter day than the one, filled with sunsets and joy, laughter and magic. He quickly knew he wanted to spend his life with her. Their last night together, he invited her to dinner at the fancy restaurant he could not afford. They sat next to the large window that showed the river and the lit city skyline, finished dessert and the bottle of Chardonnay that he thought was too expensive before he pulled the ring out of his pocket. “Will you marry me?”

Cheryl looked out the window for nearly a minute. When she turned back, she gave him a look that he still remembers vividly, almost 35 years later, a look filled sadness and misery, a look that told him her answer was, “No,” without saying a word. A look that petrified his love and made it sink into the bottom of the ocean of his soul.

She said, “I’m not ready for all of this. I still have things I want to do. I still want to travel the world. I still want to climb the highest summits and eat the most exotic foods. I don’t think you want to come along. I don’t see the wanderlust inside of you. You want to settle, and I want to be free. I don’t feel like you want to do all of these things with me.” Brent tried to find a way to tell her she was wrong. They walked along the river after dinner, silent and sad, already one hundred miles apart.

He thought about what he was going to do now that she was not going to marry him. He did not want to be left standing around while she had all of the adventure she wanted. The idea of her traveling the world while he waited at home did not appeal to him at all. He said, “Where do we go from here?”

Cheryl tried to grab his hand, but he buried them deep in his pockets. She did not answer right away. Finally, after a few blocks of dead night, she said, “I hope that we can stay together. I hope that even though we aren’t getting married we can stay together.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t do this right now.”

Brent did not see her again. She called him a few times in the middle of the night, but he did not answer. He heard through acquaintances that Cheryl was going to Mt. Everest in March. Six months later, he learned that she never came back. The idea that she was still up there, never recovered, buried in the ice and snow that was now melting, made him think that he needed to go find her, tell her they should have done things differently, that if he did not let go, she would have come back.

He was not an experience climber, adventurer, survivor, even athletic, but he motivated. He spent his life saving plus money borrowed from family and friends for his equipment, a climbing permit, and guides. He was going to find her.

Two problems still persisted. The first was that Cheryl could have taken one of two major routes, the Nepal side and the Tibet side. He tried to think back to any time when she talked about Mt. Everest. Nepal seemed like the more likely choice because it was less expensive, and if he was wrong the first time, he was just going to have to climb it again. The other problem was that he needed to get into some sort of shape to do this. Brent did not consider himself fat, but he was not in any shape to be climbing a mountain for two months. While he spent hours everyday in the gym, his friends thought that he was crazy. “Let me try to understand this. You’re doing all of this to find the dead body of your lost lover?”

“It’s more than that,” Brent said. It was more than that. While he lifted weights, ran miles and miles, and ate healthy to become slim and fit, he could only think about how he had not had any serious relationships since Cheryl left. He dated here and there, but the majority of the time, he life was alone. He had spent many hours in the thirty-five years since she walked away from them thinking about what could have happened differently. He could have insisted on being her travelling partner, hanging onto their relationship until she felt it was time to get married. He could have worked with her, showed up to her work, wrote her letters, left her phone messages, told her she was his everything, the person he would swim to the bottom of the ocean to grab and pull to the surface, the person he would climb the highest mountains to bring her back with him. He felt like the years he had been inactive in searching for her were a mistake. Brent did not understand the depth of his sorrow until he was on the plane, flying into Nepal after months of preparation, looking out the window at the Himalayas. He studied the pattern of the snow covered peaks and knew that there was nothing left in the world for him besides this purpose.

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