No, Kambili is not back, but the genius behind that wonderful character has obviously not been resting on her laurels. The buzz about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's sublime novel Purple Hibiscus finally compelled me to find an (alas!) rare spot in my schedule to read a novel last year. I won't soon forget the rewards. Not only does Adichie possess rare craft in prose, but her characters are vivid and sympathetic. Even the antagonist figure, Kambili's father, was rendered with the sensitivity you would expect from a seasoned storyteller. This was a first novel? Almost impossible to believe. Throw in the fact that the descriptive prose evoked so many wonderful memories of South-Eastern Nigeria, and especially of Nsukka, where I spent three years in University, engaged in a frenzy of intellectual, social, and even political activity. On a sad note she describes the terrible decomposition of the town and University of Nsukka, a process of which I've heard plenty from other Great Lions and Lionesses. I'm hardly the only one to marvel at Adichie's accomplishment. Her reviews have been effusive, and her novel won or was short-listed for an armful of awards. More importantly, it did a respectable trade, which is rare for a book of literary merit in this day. Furthermore:
Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus may soon become Nigeria’s most widely translated work after Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The author told Sunday Sun that the book which won both the Hurston Wrights and Commonwealth Prizes and made the Orange Prize shortlist and the Booker Prize long list has been translated into nine European languages -- French, German, Lithuanian, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Polish, Dutch and of course Hebrew.
Imagine, then, how my ears perked up when I was listening to the Foley Flap show (a.k.a. today's All Things Considered on NPR) and I caught in a story relieving the political firestorm a reporter trying gingerly to pronounce Adichie's name. It turns out she has a new novel. It's not more from Kambili, which is in a way too bad, because Kambili is a character I hope to encounter once more. Then again every writer deserves the emancipation of their choice from their own characters, who can sometimes act as jailers. Besides, this time, Adichie has taken on quite a setting: the War for Biafra. This war is as important in the minds of most Igbos as the six-day war is in the minds of most Israelis, despite the fact that we did not enjoy the same successful outcome. (Indeed the fact that Israel was one of the only nations to support Biafra is one of the reason so many South-Eastern Nigerians have a strong pro-Israeli tendency, although some of the unfortunate recent power politics in the Middle East is beginning to test that loyalty among Igbos I know). I've read my share of novels and memoirs of those times, but as I've remarked to my father (who was an officer in the Biafran army), I think it won't be until my generation takes up the story that the episode will receive the literary and historical treatment it deserves. I'll definitely start on Half of a Yellow Sun as soon as I can, to see if Adichie is the one to prove me right.
p.s. It was fun to hear the NPR reporter pronounce "Igbo" as "Ig-boh", with the "g" and "b" clearly pronounced in separate syllables. No labial-velar plosives in the NPR pronunciation cheat-sheet, I guess.
p.p.s. I also recently bought Helen Oyeyemi's Icarus Girl, about which I've heard wonderful things. I surprise myself in the degree of possessiveness with which I eye my Nigerian middle-class peers. I'm not surprised that all the intellectual belligerence, curious creativity and dogged resourcefulness I remember from my teens is fueling a new generation of Nigerian literary accomplishment.
p.p.p.s. I also ran across an interview with Adichie in Nigeria Village Square , from which:
...religion in Nigeria has become insular, self-indulgent, self-absorbed, self-congratulatory. Churches spring up day after day while corruption thrives as much as ever and God becomes the watchman standing behind you while you seek your self-interest at all cost. God loves you more than others. God wants you to be rich. God wants you to buy that new car.
Boy did I feel that in my recent trip back home. It's rather creepy.