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Author Study: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Curated by Angela Wang '19

Adichie on Humanizing History

Adichie on the role of literature in history during an interview/conversation hosted by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Due to the social, political and historical theme of many of her novels, most notably Half of a Yellow Sun, hearing Adichie's reasoning along with motivations to humanize history helps in understanding more about the novel and its purpose.


Dubbed the "the twenty-first century daughter” of Chinua Achebe by The Washington Post Book World, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie might not have her own distinct type of writing style, but she does write in a way that makes her work stand out in comparison to many others. It's easy to nitpick specific choices for her books, such as the fluid and educated speech in Americanah, or the short and innocent sentences that depict a blunt childlike experience as done in Purple Hibiscus, or even the extremely clever division of time through chapters and parts in all her pieces, especially Half of a Yellow Sun. So what is the one thing that makes Adichie such a great writer?


Simply her ability to develop perspectives and her tone. 


In all of her works, Adichie is able to maintain a consistent and well flushed voice-- whether it's of her own or her character. In pieces like Dear Ijeawele and We Should All Be Feminists, because they are from her own perspective and written in a more formal essay like format, they are often extremely motherly: inducing warm soft feelings with a bit of a flare. Another Adichie-esque writing style is using the narrative. Similar to her famous TedTalk "The Danger of the Single Story," Adichie tries her best to write out multiple "stories" using different voices, as seen in Half of a Yellow Sun with 5 perspectives and Americanah with two; Simultaneously, Adichie also crafts a safe space for voices that are often unheard, like the main narrator Kambili in Purple Hibiscus, an abused young teen daughter of a wealthy priest.



As an Igbo woman writing about Igbo characters, all of Adichie's books contain short phrases in Igbo when applicable. An interesting aspect regarding her usage of language is that she does not translate all the phrases, yet the reader has no problem understanding what the phrases mean from just the context of the situation. Her choice of using Igbo might also relate to keeping her works and characters native to their home, challenging the domination of English and western influences to change and translate certain terms so they are understandable to western audiences. Some words cannot be translated, and the beauty of some phrases should not be restrained by merely English. 



A well praised and received aspect of Purple Hibiscus is Adichie's ability to write from the perspective of a child. All sentences are short, blunt and to the point, while words are kept to a basic level. Additionally, the story is mostly driven by observations from the narrator of her family's interactions along with speech. This novel is also divided by time, and starts from Palm Sunday, to Before Palm Sunday, and After Palm Sunday. 



Probably her most famous work along with most adventurous with style. Instead of sticking to just one or two perspectives, Adichie goes above and beyond by using 5 distinct characters' perspectives while keeping to a third person/omnipotent narrator. In addition, certain plot devices are revealed in the very end, building lots of tension throughout the novel. With every perspective change, comes a new tone-- such as broken and logical from Olanna, to submissive and direct from Ugwu-- while all pertaining to the third person perspective. 



Adichie kept it a bit more simple by keeping the story to mostly one character, Ifemelu, although occasionally going to Obinze, Ifemelu's lover. The novel is written with a very sophisticated and political, just like the main characters. A fun little bit of Americanah is that within every few chapters, is a "blog entry" from Ifemelu. On her official website, Adichie has a special portion just for Ifemelu's blog.

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