Purple Hibiscus

THE BOOK:

81gXf0Y5lsLI bought this one on a “used bookstore” weekend and finally got around to reading it when my library holds dried up. (I’m number 185 on 98 copies, so it’ll be awhile before I read Hillbilly Elegy.) I loved Americanah, so I had high hopes for this one. One thing I thought would have been really helpful was a glossary of all the Nigerian words. Having to google sometimes two or three times per page interrupted the flow of the narrative. I’m sure there are many  English readers out there who would agree with me that a glossary would enhance our enjoyment of the book.

There was a quietness to the prose that I immediately keyed in on. It wasn’t until I progressed farther into the book that I realized that what I had mistaken as quiet, was actually oppression. That sense of oppression was so palpable that I sometimes felt shortness of breath, as though an elephant was sitting on my chest. There really was a metaphorical elephant in the book that was hinted at early on. The story is about a well-to-do Nigerian family consisting of Eugene and Beatrice Achike and their children Jaja and Kambili, brother and sister, respectively. The family’s life is well-ordered by Papa, and their devout Catholicism is so present as to be another character in the story. Kambili is an outsider: quiet, shy, unable to express herself. Those characteristics should have tipped me off a lot sooner than they did about what was really going on here. In the end, this was a tale about a child’s need for love and validation from a parent, and also how important it is for parents to help their children cultivate a sense of self as someone independent from both the parent and the family. I love the way Adichie writes. It makes for effortless reading. The words and ideas flow easily, as though she were telling me the story herself, to me, in her own speaking voice.

THE BEAUTY:

When Kambili and Jaja visit Aunty Ifeoma and Amaka, Obiora and Chima (Aunty’s 3 children in Nnukwu where they lived), Jaja becomes interested in her garden, particularly the purple hibiscuses. When he returns home, he brings stalks of purple hibiscus that Aunty Ifeoma gave him, and plants them in the family’s garden. The plant had taken on a unique meaning for Jaja, perhaps representing a different way of living from what he was used to. It also became a symbol of his independence, and th eperfect title for the book.

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THE FOOD:

There’s a lot of food mentioned in Purple Hibiscus, probably because the Achikes are well-to-do. Here is a list of just of few of the foods mentioned: fufu (a dumpling made of pounded cassava, yams, plantains or other grains that is served in soup); onugbu (a traditional Nigerian soup made with bitter leaves); ofe nsala (a rich fresh fish soup); okpa (made with Bambara nut flour, like peanuts, and boiled in a wrapper to form a ball, that can then be eaten as a snack); akara (also known as bean cakes, served for breakfast); and moi moi (steamed bean pudding). When Jaja and Kambili visit Aunty Ifeoma for the first time, her children teasingly say that they wish Jaja and Kambili would visit more often if it meant they would have jolloff rice and chicken. This is something that I will make often. It is delicious.

Chicken and Jolloff Rice
serves 4

8 chicken thighs
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground white pepper
Vegetable oil
1¼ lbs. cherry tomatoes
4 onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, sliced
½ –1 scotch bonnet chili, deseeded and chopped
A bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves and stalks (finey( chopped separately
¼ c tomato purée
1 lb. vine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
3 C chicken stock
1½ C long grain rice
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a bowl, toss the chicken thighs with the ground coriander, white pepper and a pinch of salt. Add a splash of oil to a large saucepan and fry the chicken over a medium heat for 7–8 minutes, until browned all over. Transfer the chicken to a medium-sized roasting pan and cook in the oven for 30–40 minutes, until golden, adding the cherry tomatoes to the pan halfway through.

Meanwhile, using the same pan you browned the chicken in, add a splash of oil and sauté the onions, garlic, chili and parsley stalks over a low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée and chopped tomatoes, then pour in the chicken stock. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the rice, cover and let cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, adding water if it gets too dry. Finally, stir in the parsley leaves followed by the cooking juices and cherry tomatoes from the roasting pan. Mix well, squashing the tomatoes into the rice.

Serve the rice with the chicken pieces on top and lemon wedges on the side for squeezing over.

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