This was a gift from Bindu, and one that I have to say, I absolutely LOVED.
Set in Nigeria, fifteen year old Kambili lives in fear of her dad. Her father is a pillar of the society, a generous, much respected and revered Catholic patriarch. While the community looks up to him, his family is petrified of him. His fanatically religious mindset ensures that his son daughter and wife have no real freedom. Their lives are bound by the schedules he draws up for them. Failure to follow rules come with a heavy price as Jaja, Kambili’s brother has learnt.
Kambili’s father, being so close minded about religion, has also disowned his own father for still being a ‘pagan’ and refusing to accept Christianity. The children are allowed to visit their grandfather but have strict rules on what they are allowed to do there, and the amount of time they are allowed to spend there.
Having lived such a life, they are suddenly taken by surprise when they go to their aunt’s house.
Their aunty, Ifeoma, is as different as possible from her fanatic brother. She somehow managed to convince her brother to let the children come with her for a few days. Her house was full of laughter and happiness. They did not have too much money but they made up for it in spirit. She is Christian as well, but not in the fanatical way her brother is. She accepts her father’s right to believe in what makes sense to him, and as a daughter does what she can for him, despite her own cash-strapped life. Her three children are happy, content and forever questioning their mother, while contributing to their household in whatever way they could. Jaja, fit into the household beautifully, enjoying his time there, soaking in the atmosphere. Kambili, on the other hand, is terrified that her father’s rules are being flouted. She lives in fear that they would have to pay for not obeying their father.
When they return back to their home, Kambili misses the simple easy life there, despite all the material comforts her parents’ house had. Jaja shows a few signs of rebellion that irks his father.
Some sudden changes and incidents ensure that the children end up in Aunty Ifeoma’s home again.
Nigeria, is in the middle of political unrest and their father is affected by it, because he was such an important figure of the community.
As Nigeria goes through the upheaval, Kambili and Jaja’s life changes drastically.
A poignant, and hopeful story that keeps you rivetted. A story of childhoods coming to an end, of control, of religious fanaticism that we see so much around us, emotions, and primarily, hope. Of better things to come.
Some books transport you to another world. You are right there, with the protagonists, feeling their fears, worries and joys, this is one of those books. The characters come alive, you feel Kambili’s fear, confusion, Jaja’s need to rebel, her aunt’s struggles, her mother’s pain… A beautiful book. It also makes me want to look up about Nigeria, a country, I realize,I know very little about. An absolutely recommended read.