Raised Eyebrows

Eleanor Birne

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2004), was ostensibly a coming of age story. A teenage girl is abused by her repressive Catholic father and, following a political upheaval, moves in with her aunt, at whose house she has a fuller life and discovers her own sexuality. But the novel’s backdrop was the changing face of Nigeria. Adichie was born in a small ex-Biafran town in 1977, ten years after the military coup that precipitated the civil war. Her first book’s first sentence made plain the company she meant to keep, with its bold reference to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart: ‘Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère.’ This was a story about a girl and her family, but the effect of larger events was occasionally felt, bubbling up into the girl’s narrative. Award nominations followed: Booker longlist, Orange shortlist, John Llewellyn Rhys Prize shortlist, Commonwealth Writers’ First Book Prize.

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