Mee Ali has a happy marriage but for some in her village marriage becomes a loveless entrapment. Young Kauna defies convention by making it no secret of ger suffering at the hands of her abusive husband. But when he is found dead at home villagers and relatives are quick to suspect her of poisoning him or witchcraft.
The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is mostly told from the point of view of Ali, Kauna’s best friend and neighbour. Ali is older than Kauna and has taken on a nurturing role for her, especially as all of Kauna’s family leaves in a different town miles away. Their relationship is great and it’s clear to see how much they care about one another.
It’s not just the friendship between the main two women that’s the focus of The Purple Violet of Oshaantu. Female friendship is a big theme in this book and it shows the value of that friendship and respect in ways I wasn’t expecting. It shows how women (like anyone) have many different facets to their personalities. These women might gossip about Kauna and how her husband sleeps around but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily abandon her and refuse to help in her time in need.
As well as friendship being a huge part of The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, so was the conflicts between tradition and modernity. The Purple Violet of Oshaantu was published in 2001 but a lot of the action takes place in a village with few modern amenities. It’s not the technology (or lack thereof) that stands out, it’s the conflicting opinions of younger generations verses older ones. Older generations want to do things in a certain way for Kauna’s husband’s funeral and when Kauna doesn’t act as a grieving widow traditionally should, she starts to get ostracised.
It’s tradition to not speak ill of the dead and for the widow to put on a huge performance but no matter how her husband died, Kauna didn’t love him anymore for how he treated her – he even put her in hospital once. She doesn’t see why she should do certain things and while Ali agrees with her in some ways, she doesn’t want her friend to be shut out by her in-laws and be left with nothing.
The writing is pretty simple but often effective and I liked how words in Oshiwambo and Afrikaans were used throughout the book. Sometimes there was an asterisk and a translation at the bottom of the page and others they weren’t. There was a glossary at the back of the book to check the meaning of these words but sometimes you could have a good guess at what they meant due to context of the characters conversation.
The Purple Violet of Oshaantu is a story about love, relationships and friendships. It shows both the best and worst in people and how tradition can hurt people but also provide comfort to others.