Having just come off the heels of reading The House of The Spirits in which one of our characters is repeatedly sexually assaulted I must admit that once I saw the nature of one particular character in this book I spent most of my time reading it in a state of slightly heightened stress. That stress came to nothing I am relieved to say but that does not condone any of the actions Kambili’s father took against her, her mother, or her brother.
This was not an easy book to read. In it, we are in Kambili’s head as her world changes, utterly. Her father has been her entire life, her ruler, and even when he harms her she feels he is justified. When she starts to spend time with her aunt her view of the world changes, but her view of her father initially doesn’t and so she struggles to reconcile the two people she is inside. Adichie perfectly captures her struggle and although we haven’t had this experience, many of us, we have been teenagers and so we can relate to feelings which in turn makes it easier to understand the issues.
I was saddened that Jaja pulled away from Kambili, leaving her even more alone at first. Although it also made sense, he couldn’t trust her – but if they had talked then maybe they would have both been more comfortable with their changing world.
[I am intrigued that Jaja’s word that he poisoned his father is taken, over the word of their mother’s. I wonder why, if that was just because he claimed it first and it was easy to write off their mother’s claim as attempting to save her son – as is written in the book? (hide spoiler)]
This book also deals with the effects of colonialism and missionary work which broke my heart. Turning children away from their heathen parents, accepting that Jesus was a white man and that it is best to be as white as possible. Europeans have treated the African nations poorly and I’m not sure that wrong can ever be righted. (Yes, I realise that is a vast understatement).
In addition the book discusses political issues, though more to show their effects on the regular people and what it means when you can’t get enough petrol to drive to the shops. Or you don’t get paid. This is the third book I’ve read this year that covers political struggles, including military coups, to varying degrees. And mostly what I’ve learned is that the people on the ground are the ones that suffer. It’s always just the regular people. It wasn’t a surprise exactly, but I’ve learned *how* they suffer.
Don’t read this book if you want something uplifting from start to finish, do read this book if you want to learn more about the effects of colonialism, missionary work, political struggles in other nations, and people.