By the author of Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists, Adichie’s first book (shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize and won the 2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book Prize) takes us to Nigeria, where 15-year-old Kambili lives in a protected compound with her wealthy family, led by a controlling, abusive father who wields the Bible as his weapon. Only at her Aunt Ifeoma’s house nearby does she learn to smile and laugh–and not live in fear. Similar to Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (Adichie was influenced by Achebe’s work), we see the clashing–and melding–of Christianity with native Igbo culture. At her aunt’s house, Kambili witnesses a Christian religion that is open to Igbo ways, especially when honoring elders. Kambili’s aunt cares for, loves, and respects her father, even though she herself practices Christianity whereas Kambili’s father, Eugene, won’t allow her to spend more than a few minutes with her aging and ailing grandfather because he worships pagan gods and follows native culture. Eugene’s fanatical beliefs lead him to such extreme measures that he feels compelled to beat and punish his family for transgressions such as visiting too long with their grandfather, sleeping in the same house as their grandfather, or taking medicine to relieve menstrual cramps within an hour of communion. He truly believes each unholy act will lead his family to Hell–thus the beatings, followed by declarations of love and salvation. And to make his character more complex, he also supports the poor, supports schools, buys food for those in need, and defends post Colonial Democracy from various coups. He’s a highly educated pillar of the local community who became so brainwashed by extreme Catholicism that no one in his family can live up to his rituals, rules, and expectations.
This is engaging, complex, and informative. I’ve now read three of her books and will look for her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, also about Nigeria.