This is a very highly acclaimed book. And I can see why. It’s also the third Khaled Hosseini book I’ve read – and as far as I know, he only has 3, so clap for me. Now that I’ve read all, I think it’s safe to say my favourite is And The Mountains Echoed, even though The Kite Runner appears to be his most famous.
Hosseini has interesting, and perhaps very unique storytelling skills. I love the way he tells his stories, and that placates me when his characters are annoying me to death. I like that the main character of the story (Amir) was not the title character (Hassan, also known as The Kite Runner), and so it’s difficult to tell if the story was about Amir, Hassan, or both.
I also like how Amir, the person through whom the story was told, was not flat. We got to see his growth in character as he grew in age and how he reacted to a lot of things unravelling. (You might not understand, but the word “unravelling” here is a triple entendre I am proud of.) Hassan was very flat. It was an act of wisdom not to tell the story through him.
This book took me a relatively short time to go through. It was engaging and the language, though not entirely simple, was easy for me to breeze through. I think Hosseini just writes exactly in the way I find it comfortable to read – but the book felt very long. Why? Because of secrets and lies and plot twists abounding! Just when you’ve accepted what has happened and you think you understand how the story is going to go from then on, you realize suddenly that someone (sometimes you) has been duped.
When I finished this book, I said I was emotionally tired, and I meant it. While I read, I wailed nearly incessantly to my mother about all the twists, whenever she was within earshot.
I have something (not really a spoiler) to say about the end: it was not a conclusion. It was more like a roller coaster evening out into an ordinary road.
Somewhere in my heart, I know that this book was heavy. It’s just that…after reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, I know what heavy really is, and so I can’t complain about this.
But yes, it’s a great book, and a fantastic debut novel – so I’d recommend it.
My favourite quote:
“With me as the glaring exception, my father molded the world around him to his liking. The problem, of course, was that Baba saw the world in black and white. And he got to decide what was black and what was white. You can’t love a person who lives like that without fearing him too. Maybe even hating him a little.”
Yes, I have read Half of a Yellow Sun, and I have also read Americanah. I’ve watched loads of this woman’s speeches and read some of her short stories featured in online publications. No, I have not yet read The Thing Around Your Neck, but even so, I hold fast to the belief that I now have: Purple Hibiscus is her most relevant work. (To me.)
I have been absolutely astounded to discover that mainstream media has gotten Half of a Yellow Sun to all but overshadow Purple Hibiscus to the point of near obscurity. I have tried and tried to find an article, interview, whatever, of Chimamanda, specifically in relation to this book (not Half of a Yellow Sun with Purple Hibiscus casually thrown in) and I have failed. All I seem to be getting is a bunch of websites with lesson notes. This isn’t at all what I am looking for.
[Side note: I have been holding in for so long a rant about how we have managed to reduce a lot of great things to technical academia, which sometimes renders discussion of said pieces of work nearly non-existent outside of the classroom context. But this is not the time. *upside-down smiley emoji *]
I have been looking for something more along the lines of how this book changed some teenager’s perception of African literature, shook a devout parent, dissembled an oppressive African environment… But more than that, I have been looking for an explanation, perhaps from Adichie herself, of the paradoxical nature of many of the characters.
I have to say that this book has been the most emotionally taxing book I have read all year. It is not inherently the most painful. I think the most painful so far has been A Thousand Splendid Suns. But the reason this got me in my feels so much and so hard is that I could personally recognize – like really recognize, as if I had known them in real life – just about all of the characters. Engaging with this book was intense, I can’t even lie.
I know I could never have written it, though, because of the perspective it was told through; Kambili, the quiet, the falsely indoctrinated, the academically brilliant but otherwise foolish main character, really threatened to get me to punch my Kindle multiple times. I could barely stand her thoughts and decisions, even though I knew why they were what they were. The thing is that, I’m just not that kind of person. The flame in Amaka and her fearless outspokenness is the only perspective I could have possibly told this story though Plus the ridiculous inferiority complex and all.
With this story told through Kambili, it was like a thick, translucent sheet had been placed over a raging sea. When you watched it, you didn’t get the full experience. Or maybe I should rather compare it to a bunch of words being told through a text-to-speech application, as opposed to an emotive human being reading something to you.
I really could talk about this book continuously but I want to focus on this thing that has been bothering me since: the character of Eugene. He is one of the biggest character paradoxes I have ever read, and the book still ended with him unexplained. It rather perplexed me further!
I simply could not – absolutely not – understand how a man could so thoroughly brainwash himself into becoming full of hate for anything contrary to a deity he really does seem to have made up for himself. God wasn’t his god; religion was. Religion in the sense of habitual practices, and orders followed. And it’s not like he was that much of a hypocrite too; he actually seemed to fully believe in all that he did. My brain refuses to wrap its head around a well-meaning tyrant.
For someone who frequently abused his wife and children in the name of religious discipline and implicitly encouraged perpetual silence about the matter (and just general subdued demeanours that turned his whole family into metaphorical robots), I fail to see how he was so devoted to the exposure of the scandalous truth of his country that he was the publisher of the Standard, whose content consistently got people in political trouble. It simply doesn’t add up. Especially not how protective he seemed to be of Ade Coker.
That’s another thing. I’m not entirely sure what exactly the relevance of Ade Coker was in the story. Maybe it was just to confuse me. It did cross my mind that maybe Eugene and Ade had some sort of affair, and Eugene’s tyrannical religious ways were his mechanisms of dealing with the guilt. But then if that is true, what was the point of him recounting the abomination (can’t recall the specific words he himself used) of that one time he masturbated to Kambili?
The final stroke of confusion was when he was discovered to have anonymously donated money to charities and such. But he couldn’t take care of his own father, and nearly ostracized his broke sister and her family? I swear, I don’t get it. And Adichie had the gall to end the book without explaining all this to me. Like, I’m mad. And I can’t even find a single decent interview. (But if you can find one for me, that’d be great. LOL.)
There are so many relevant themes that I know I won’t touch on now. But now that I’ve read the book, it/they will start popping up slowly in my conversations and subsequent writings.
I think everyone should read this book. I really do. Also, I may have a crush on Obiora. But that’s just by the way. J
This is what I felt was the single, most centrally relevant quote, by Aunty Ifeoma’s friend:
“It is what happens when you sit back and do nothing about tyranny. Your child becomes something you cannot recognize.”
Who is Shafak, you ask? Well, Elif Shafak is the Turkish (and apparently feminist) author of an amazing book that you should go and download right now, called The Forty Rules of Love. Alright, you radicals, don’t start running away because I said feminist. It’s not any throw-it-in-your-face empowerment campaign. Interestingly enough, there are only about three female characters in the whole story, and one of them is a prostitute. True to the nature of a story set in ancient and religious context, it is male dominated.
The paradox of this novel is that while most novels aren’t just “about” something that you can describe in a word, this one is; it is simply about love. The paradox is augmented by the fact that I have no idea what label to give this genre. Please, for those who have started running away again, it is not a romance book, though some people who also don’t know where to place it might call it one. Is it a historical novel? Tragedy? Adventure? Perhaps it would be similar to whatever genre Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” is. (Yes, apparently, she has been linked to him several times, and some deign to say that she is the female Coelho. I beg to differ. Their themes may be similar, but I believe they are very distinct from each other.)
The reason why this would be said to be a historical novel is because the two central characters are prominent figures in at least the Islamic world. The first is Rumi, the renowned poet, and the second is Shams of Tabriz, a wandering dervish, who becomes Rumi’s best friend, and later, the subject or object of many of Rumi’s poems. Yes, these were real people, and they had pretty interesting lives. You should go and read about them or something. What fascinated me is Shams’ disappearance – his death or not-death. It reminds me of the legend of Okomfo Anokye, the (in my opinion) Ghanaian wizard. He was there, then he wasn’t there. No record has ever been found of his body, and I feel we are wrong to “assume” he is dead.
Though the book is not necessarily about relationships but about love itself, I won’t hesitate to say that the strongest human-to-human relationship in the book is between Rumi and Shams. Of course, as it was in real life, the people who love scandal will be quick to jump to homosexual conclusions. Yet this love was entirely non-sexual. Since I am Christian, I can easily relate it to the relationship between David and Jonathan. They loved each other like they loved themselves. It is the same with Shams and Rumi.
However, as I have observed and I like to say: there are some things that a person can share so widely, so that no matter how many people receive it, it does not get finished, and giving one person more is not exactly equivalent to giving another person less. Such an example of an infinite resource is love. On the other hand, there are things that, no matter how much we would like to share, are restricted by our own capabilities as humans. Giving one person more, unfortunately, invariably means another person does not get as much. Such an example of a finite resource is attention.
A prominent theme within the characters of Rumi’s household was jealously. Rumi, a teacher, a father and a husband, suddenly started paying so little attention to his wife, his sons, his student, all for the sake of spending time with his beloved Shams of Tabriz. I love how Shafak didn’t gloss the problems that arose from this relationship over. She told it like it happens: when Rumi loved someone deeply, he couldn’t pay the rest of them enough attention, and he realised the hurt he was causing them, yet, he was not the majestic hero who tried to placate everyone. His love was too strong, and he merely carried on – because sometimes, human as we are, we cannot help hurting the ones we love, even if it was not our intention. (Shout-out to all my friends who’ve been pairing up in high school and leaving me hanging, yo!) It doesn’t mean we don’t love them, though, and that’s the truth.
In accordance with this, another lesson that I have learnt is that it’s not sensible to forcibly pull people away from the ones that they love, no matter how hurt you may be by it. Because, if what you have ruined is that important to the person, you will have damaged the person whose love you have torn away, with no way to fix them. I learnt this from Shams’ separation from Rumi twice.
Perhaps this book is about religion. Perhaps this book is not about religion. It is true that everywhere, there are elements of it, particularly and prominently, Islam. The reason why I say it is not about religion is because, more than anything, it challenges religion in its most conventional sense. This is where the whole “individuals against society” theme comes in. As Shams is the main postulator of these vies, I shall speak with regards to Shams’ perspective. According to him, religion is null and void, the way it is carried out by the general public, and especially the religious elders. They occupy themselves with rules and regulations of what they can and cannot do, what is blessed and what is sin, judging each other’s actions, and mindlessly “studying” religious scripts – so much so that they have forgotten how to live, and they have forgotten that the true goal of whatever they are practicing is not to look good in front of society, but to love God with all their hearts, regardless of any so-called rules. Shams is a freaking rebel. Because of the things he says, they call him a heathen.
As Shams said to an aspiring dervish who wished to follow him,
“You are too timid for me. You care too much about what other people think. But you know what? Because you are so desperate to win the approval of others, you will never get rid of their criticisms, no matter how hard you try.” -Elif Shafak
Honestly, this Tabriz guy, he’s the very definition of controversial, and I love him. He lives not by the doctrines of religion, but by his own compilation of rules, about something he believes is the core of our existence: to love, and to love God. The rules are forty in total. If you were wondering why the book is called The Forty Rules of Love, there you go.
Well yeah, Shams is bae, but let’s talk about the mastery of Shafak herself. This brilliant woman eh…okay.
I’ll start with the narrative itself. This book is one of those books that make one feel like a god wrote it – because how on earth could you know the inside of every event, every character’s heart so thoroughly? The real narrative of the story follows the life of a modern-day Jewish, American woman living in Massachusetts, whose routine, conventional life begins to turn upside down when she is about to turn forty, which is triggered by two things: first, her oldest, collegiate daughter trying to get married, because she and the other boy supposedly “love” each other, and secondly, her job requiring her to produce an editorial review of a book by an obscure writer called Aziz Zahara, called Sweet Blasphemy. So, in the book “The Forty Rules of Love”, which is written in third person by Elif Shafak, and follows the life story of an American woman, we are able to read the book she is reading, called “Sweet Blasphemy,” by Aziz Zahara, which is about Rumi and Shams, and which is written in first person.
Does that sound confusing? Because it gets worse! The whole book keeps switching between narratives, and, although the mains tory of the American woman (called Ella) is in third person, “Sweet Blasphemy” is in several first persons. There are at lest seven characters in “Sweet Blasphemy” who get to tell their stories through their own eyes. (LOL. Through their own I’s – because first-person.) (I’m fooling. Ignore the last parentheses,) And it switches without warning, in every different chapter. Oftentimes, I forgot whose POV I was reading from. But it’s all pat of the work of a master, who can write from each perspective because she knows her characters inside out. And this, in my opinion, is true omniscient narrative.
Through each of these people, she provides us with the avenue to understand everyone’s contrasting perspectives. Some characters are round, some are flat. The story isn’t like, “Hey, this is what the protagonist thinks about life! Swallow it!” It’s more like, “This is what each character thinks in relation to the other. The protagonist himself has flaws and caused problems that he himself cannot rectify. So you, reader, who do you think is right?”
Through the few female characters, we do see underlying feminist themes; like the right of a female to an education. This is an excerpt from one of the females’ POV:
“When you are born a girl, you are taught how to cook and clean, wash dirty clothes, mend old socks, make butter and cheese, and feed babies Some women are also taught the art of love and making themselves attractive to men. But that’s about it. Nobody gives women books to open their eyes.” – Elif Shafak
And remember that in the 1200s, the male dominance issue was much worse than it is now. So, imagine.
There are a lot of other brilliantly controversial themes in there, such as the disparities that exist between rebel children and parents, the credibility of religious leaders, and the credibility of what our brains confirm as truths but our hearts have not really accepted. It is a brilliant. Freaking. Book.
Personally, I think that whether you’re Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, traditional, whatever, there is stuff to be learned from this book.
I could share my favourite quotes, but as they took up about eleven pages of my notebook when I was copying them out, I will spare a reader the trouble, and only share one:
“It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within? Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. AT every moment, and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There in only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.” – Elif Shafak
You’ll understand the last sentence if you read the book.
First off: hahahahahaaaa! What kind of stretched imagination does it take to come up with this stuff? This book is HILARIOUS!
The subject matter is pretty appropriate for the time it was set in. In the days of my father and grandfather, all the ‘interesting’/’approved’ books were apparently tales of the sea. Think Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe etc. But which one of those stories every involved a Bengal tiger and a Hindu son of a zookeeper? None.
In this strange cross between satire and farce, I was frequently warring with myself on whether or not to laugh because there were actually a lot of pathetic and/or gruesome bits, but the manner in which they were told would inappropriately elicit a giggle from me every time.
It is not, however, a completely easy book to read. Some parts are long and annoyingly uneventful, but legit, as that is the life of a person shipwrecked for seven months. In between reading, I stopped and read James Patterson’s ‘Nevermore’ for the second time (I needed a fast-action distraction that day) before returning to the adventures of Pi Patel.
There is an astounding amount of irony and plain ridiculousness in this book, the most memorable of which I believe, is that an Indian boy could be called, of all things, Piscine.
I’d read this book on a lazy, slow day, for an easy laugh. But Yann Martel, I must say: you’re a fool.