Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • Perhaps they would not have if he had not been white. He still looked new. The colors of his face, the colors of condensed milk and a cut-open soursop, had not tanned at all in the fierce heat of seven Nigerian harmattans.
  • His favorite title was Our Lady, Shield of the Nigerian People. He had made it up himself. If only people would use it every day, he told us, Nigeria would not totter like a Big Man with the spindly legs of a child.
  • We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.
  • It was the same way I felt when he smiled, his face breaking open like a coconut with the brilliant white meat inside.
  • All that cream blended and made the room seem wider, as if it never ended, as if you could not run even if you wanted to, because there was nowhere to run to.
  • Papa’s title was omelora, after all, The One Who Does for the Community.
  • The wide passages made our house feel like a hotel, as did the impersonal smell of doors kept locked most of the year, of unused bathrooms and kitchens and toilets, of uninhabited rooms.
  • The silence he left was heavy but comfortable, like a well-worn, prickly cardigan on a bitter morning.
  • The watercolor painting of a woman with a child was much like a copy of the Virgin and Child oil painting that hung in Papa’s bedroom, except the woman and child in Amaka’s painting were dark-skinned.
  • I did not say anything else until lunch was over, but I listened to every word spoken, followed every cackle of laughter and line of banter.
  • The hedges had many gaping holes, so I could see the backyards of the houses-the metal water tanks balanced on unpainted cement blocks, the old tire swings hanging from guava trees, the clothes spread out on lines tied tree to tree.
  • Obiora was reading the plaque, too. He let out a short cackle and asked, “But when did man lose his dignity?”
  • How did Jaja do it? How could he speak so easily? Didn’t he have the same bubbles of air in his throat, keeping the words back, letting out only a stutter at best?
  • His eyes closed almost at once, although the lid of his going-blind eye remained slightly open, as if he were stealing a peek at all of us from the land of tired, ill sleep.
  • “Morality, as well as the sense of taste, is relative,” Obiora said.
  • then she looked up and said Papa-Nnukwu was not a heathen but a traditionalist, that sometimes what was different was just as good as what was familiar,
  • “You haven’t asked me a single question,” he said. “I don’t know what to ask.” “You should have learned the art of questioning from Amaka. Why does the tree’s shoot go up and the root down? Why is there a sky? What is life? Just why?” I laughed. It sounded strange, as if I were listening to the recorded laughter of a stranger being played back. I was not sure I had ever heard myself laugh.
  • Besides, I did not have a right to mourn Papa-Nnukwu with her; he had been her Papa-Nnukwu more than mine. She had oiled his hair while I kept away and wondered what Papa would say if he knew.
  • He had wanted to help me into the flat when we arrived earlier in the afternoon, and Chima had insisted on carrying my bag. It was as if they feared my illness lingered somewhere within and would pounce out if I exerted myself.
  • It had rained all night. Jaja was kneeling in the garden, weeding. He did not have to water anymore because the sky did it. Anthills had risen in the newly softened red soil in the yard, like miniature castles.
  • It was what Aunty Ifeoma did to my cousins, I realized then, setting higher and higher jumps for them in the way she talked to them, in what she expected of them. She did it all the time believing they would scale the rod. And they did. It was different for Jaja and me. We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn’t.
  • It is what happens when you sit back and do nothing about tyranny. Your child becomes what you cannot recognize.
  • Every day our doctors go there and end up washing plates for oyinbo because oyinbo does not think we study medicine right. Our lawyers go and drive taxis because oyinbo does not trust how we train them in law.
  • Even the silence that descended on the house was sudden, as though the old silence had broken and left us with the sharp pieces.
  • “The white missionaries brought us their god,” Amaka was saying. “Which was the same color as them, worshiped in their language and packaged in the boxes they made. Now that we take their god back to them, shouldn’t we at least repackage it?”
  • People were packed so close that the smell of other people became as familiar as their own.
  • As we drove back to Enugu, I laughed loudly, above Fela’s stringent singing. I laughed because Nsukkas untarred roads coat cars with dust in the harmattan and with sticky mud in the rainy season. Because the tarred roads spring potholes like surprise presents and the air smells of hills and history and the sunlight scatters the sand and turns it into gold dust. Because Nsukka could free something deep inside your belly that would rise up to your throat and come out as a freedom song. As laughter.
  • He stops chewing and stares at me silently with those eyes that have hardened a little every month he has spent here; now they look like the bark of a palm tree, unyielding. I even wonder if we ever really had an asusu anva, a language of the eyes, or if I imagined it all.

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