Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.
When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a university professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways.
Review: People have been telling me for years to read a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book. They’re modern classics. They’ve been nominated for pretty much every major literary prize. College professors are obsessed with them. Well, guess what? I finally read a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie book, and I liked it. Mostly.
Purple Hibiscus is narrated by fifteen-year-old Kambili, who lives in a Nigerian compound with her wealthy family and their servants. Everyone in the city loves her father. He’s a leader in their church, a business owner, and a political activist. He also hands out money like it’s candy. To the public, Kambili’s father is a hero. Behind closed doors, he’s a tyrant. He physically abuses Kambili and her older brother, Jaja. Every second of the kids’ time is scheduled so they can keep up the appearance of being a perfect Catholic family. One day, the kids’ aunt convinces their father to let them come with her on a trip to a religious site. He reluctantly agrees. For the first time in their lives, Kambili and Jaja are allowed to think for themselves. Will they go back to their father, or use the trip as a chance to escape?
If I had to describe this book with one word, it would be oppressive. That’s a compliment. This novel is so well-written that the reader can feel Kambili’s fear. Her father is a scary dude. He’s unpredictable. One minute, he’s giving money to needy people; the next, he’s dumping boiling water on his rebellious children. He’s not a man you want to mess with.
“It was what Aunty Ifeoma did to my cousins, I realized then, setting higher and higher jumps for them in the way she talked to them, in what she expected of them. She did it all the time believing they would scale the rod. And they did. It was different for Jaja and me. We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn't.” – Purple Hibiscus
“Papa sat down at the table and poured his tea from the china tea set with pink flowers on the edges. I waited for him to ask Jaja and me to take a sip, as he always did. A love sip, he called it, because you shared the little things you loved with the people you love.” – Purple Hibiscus
I think Kambili and Jaja are realistic abused teens. They often act younger than their ages because they’re scared and sheltered. They’re trapped between loving their father and wanting to break free of him. The end of this book kind of devastated me. I wanted the kids to get away from the abuse, but not like that! On top of the abuse, Kambili has to deal with normal teenage problems. She struggles to make friends at school, and she has a love-hate relationship with her outspoken cousin, Amaka. She’s also dealing with her first crush (on a priest).
Everyone in this novel is trapped in some way. Nigeria is trapped between feuding groups who want to take control of the country. Kambili’s aunt is trapped in her crumbling apartment when riots break out on the college campus where she teaches. Kambili’s whole family is trapped between her father’s fanatical Catholicism and her grandfather’s refusal to give up his traditional polytheistic religion. Again, the word that comes to mind is oppressive. Everyone is stuck. There are no easy solutions to their problems.
“We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.” – Purple Hibiscus
There’s a lot to love about this book: the strong writing, the realistic characters, the vivid African setting. Still, I didn’t completely love the book.
This novel is slow-paced and character-driven, which only bothers me if the plot is predictable. Except for the plot twist at the very end, this book is very predictable. I knew which characters were going to die and what choices Kambili would make. Since I had a good idea of where the story was heading, I never felt motivated to pick up the book. This is a novel that I forced myself to read, not one I wanted to read. I had a hard time staying interested in it.
Still, I want to read more of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work. I’m pretty sure Purple Hibiscus is her first novel. I’m excited to read some of her more-recent creations.
“Eugene has to stop doing God's job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene.” – Purple Hibiscus