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

Critical Reviews

Purple Hibiscus 

There's been a handful of both good and bad reviews regarding Purple Hibiscus. To an extent, critics have been forgiving and mostly impressed by Adichie's work, seeing that it was her first novel at age 25. Adichie's been commended for her ability to create complex characters with dynamic relationships within the novel. What is truly noteworthy, as stated by multiple reviews on the novel, is her ability to express a type of delicate intimacy through a first-person perspective from a child, along with her talent to depict the realistic nature of hating someone who you love. From her first novel, readers can easily identify her deliberate careful blend of religion, politics and social issues, which is present in later novels as well. 

“Adichie's superb control of her material seems to falter in the last chapters and the novel sputters out in an unpersuasive brew of rage and revenge. But it doesn't really affect her achievement. Purple Hibiscus is a beautifully judged account of the private intimate stirrings of a young girl faced with the familiar public obscenities of tyrannical power, and Adichie is a fresh new voice out of Africa.”

– Christopher Hope, The Telegraph

As previously mentioned, critics have been more accepting and lenient regarding the flaws they've observed in Adichie's debut piece. A common critique that has been brought up is the weakness of the ending. The beginning and tension building is noted as extremely well written and developed, but towards the middle of the novel it begins to drag on terms of plot and the final few pages were considered abrupt by many and "uncharacteristic" of the main character along with narrator, Kambili. Many readers felt as if Adichie did not fully develop the close of the novel, but still gave Purple Hibiscus a relatively positive review.


Half of a Yellow Sun

As Adichie's most popular and arguably best novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, took her around four years in order to both develop the characters and research on the war to ensure the highest level of historical accuracy, as stated in an interview for Wylie Agency. That being said, the novel has been met with superb responses from big names such as the Guardian, the New York Times, the Telegraph and more famed news and literary websites. The novel itself was praised specifically for how each narrator is both dynamic and honest. Adichie very clearly shows in Half of a Yellow Sun that war is nothing to be romanticized, which is refreshing, because it's almost become a common feature of novels set in the midsts of a war to be painted as beautiful chaos. Every character is realistic and true to human nature, making mistakes and never being truly "perfect" and no unrealistic martyrs exist.  It is important, however, to note that the sensitive nature of war could've restricted a few critics from fully expressing all their opinions on the piece.

We see how every person’s belonging is contested in a new nation; find out that nobility of purpose has no currency in this contest; how powerfully we can love; how easily we can kill; how human we can be when a war dedicates itself to stripping our humanity from us. 

- Binyavanga Wainaina, winner of The Caine Prize for African Writing

Half of a Yellow Sun is also considered to many as the "literary daughter" of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which has won multiple awards and is one of the most famous works by a Nigerian Author. Half of a Yellow Sun has won numerous awards such as the 2007 Women's Prize for Fiction, 2007 Anisfield- Wolf Book Award for Fiction and the prestigious 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction.


The Thing Around Your Neck, Dear Ijeawele and We Should All Be Feminists

These pieces are put together mostly because they are shorter and have not bet much criticism. All three have received good responses, but have been a bit overshadowed by Adichie's larger pieces like Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun. The Thing Around Your Neck was specifically praised for how powerful a single moment/turning point can be for even the shortest of stories. Dear Ijeawele and We Should All Be Feminists have been quoted countless times in speeches regarding feminism, and are favorites of many.


Americanah 

“No issue is left uncovered. Everything is held to account. And Adichie’s observations are always sharp, intelligent, humorous and humane. They will challenge the way you think about race and show you a radically defamiliarised version of western society, as seen through African eyes.”

–Claire Lowdon New Statesman

Unlike Adichie's other pieces, Americanah received some more harsh criticism. A majority of the reviews were mixed, with either readers loving the novel or extremely disliking it. The novel keeps to two perspectives, but sticks more with female narrator Ifemelu. Adichie's greatest feature seemed to play against her this time, as audiences and critics said that Ifemelu came off as a bit recessive and narcissist at some points, and seemed a bit too quick to judge others. Of course, this is mostly opinion, but keep in mind that Ifemelu is based loosely off of a young Adichie when she first came to the United States. Character flaws could be intended to humanize Ifemelu, and many readers enjoyed the sassy tone and personality of the narrator. Some have also commented on how the novel comes off as a bit "preachy" in its attempt to be labeled a socio-political seeing that it seems to point out too many issues in the society versus actual character and plot development. Americanah was also written after Half of a Yellow Sun, so it had big shoes to fill in and couldn't avoid being compared to her previous big "breakthrough" novel. Based on comparisons, many said Americanah was lacking in development and the information was too blunt and choppy-- along with a bit too much ranting. A few reviewers have mentioned that the book could've been cut down by at least half.​ Regardless, Americanah is still praised for being able to point out the subtle things people ignore today, such as classifying someone by race (which should only be frowned upon once it is derogative,) and stays true to the culture and environment of student life in Nigeria. ​


NOTABLE AWARDS

  • 2008 MacArthur Foundation 'genius' grant (along with 24 other winners)
  • Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, for Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Winner of the 'Best of the Best' of the second decade of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction), 2015, for Half of a Yellow Sun
  • Recipient of the Leadership Award during The Women's Center's 32nd Annual Leadership Conference, 2018
  • Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2005: Best First Book (overall), for Purple Hibiscus
  • Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award 2013 (fiction category), for Americanah
  • Mary McCarthy Award, Bard College, USA, 2017
  • 2009 International Nonino Prize