Purple Hibiscus, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
- Adichie is a Nigerian author, and has written one short story collection and three novels, of which Purple Hibiscus is her first, published in 2003.
- She also did a widely popular (and AMAZING) Ted Talks, which was later published as a written essay entitled, We Should All Be Feminists. This is something everyone should read, if you haven’t already. It’s very short, but packs a huge punch.
- I think a lot of people have read her other novels, and less seem to have read this debut novel. Reading an author’s works in order isn’t always something I think about, but for some reason, I just really wanted to read Purple Hibiscus before getting to her other stuff. Definitely glad I did!
Kambili and Jaja are teenaged siblings growing up in Enugu, Nigeria, and are part of a wealthy family. Their father runs a successful newspaper, as well as several prosperous factories, and is well respected in the community. He was converted to Christianity via missionaries as a younger man, and has since turned away from Nigerian culture and custom, deeming all those who don’t believe heretical, including his own father. The novel continues to unfold, as Kambili and Jaja travel outside their home town to stay with their aunt, where they discover a different way of life from the one they are used to.
First off, I would love for Adichie to write a memoir, however I feel like we get snippets of her experiences here and there throughout her books, which can hold me over for now – hint, hint. She clearly takes inspiration from her own life, as much of this story occurs in her home town. Likewise, Americanah is about a girl who moves from Nigeria to the United States to pursue her education, which Adichie also has done.
Purple Hibiscus is simply and beautifully written, and tells the story from Kambili’s point of view. She is a smart, scared, and stifled young woman, tip toeing her way through life, trying not to upset the precarious balance in her household. She, and her brother both, undergo great changes in their outlook on life and their attitudes towards their own family throughout the progression of this story.
Two themes which resonate with me in this book are those of hypocrisy in religion, as well as the idea of leading a double life. You learn early on in reading, that Kambili and Jaja’s father, whom they affectionately refer to as “Papa,” is a bit of a religious zealot, sacrificing just about everything for the sake of his religious beliefs. He is abusive towards his family in a myriad of ways, and tyrannical about upholding religious law and his children being “the best” in all they do. However, his behavior at home is hidden away, and overshadowed by his outpouring of religious speak and the abundant financial support he provides for members within his church community. On one hand, you see the exterior of this picture perfect family, with a successful father, doting wife, and well-disciplined, smart children; while on the other, inside the walls of their home, only resides deep-seeded fear and well-kept secrets.
All I can say is, if this is Adichie’s first novel, I can’t even WAIT to read Americanah, which I’ll hopefully be getting to later this month to keep up with the ladies over at The Socratic Salon. Adichie is clearly brilliant, and I think provides a unique and important perspective on life in general. Although this story takes place in Nigeria, a place I’ve never been, the themes are so powerful and relatable to my own existence. I feel it’s especially amazing when a book can teach me something external to my life experiences, and yet also affect me on a truly personal level.
Rating: [4.5/5 stars]
If You Want More:
- I agree with Max‘s Goodreads review here – and Kambili’s cousin Amaka, was also one of my favorite characters!
- Curled Up With A Good Book’s review here, is quite a bit more spoilery, so beware of that, but does provide a nice discussion on the abuse of power, and how the political atmosphere of Nigeria at the time reflects that of the family.
- 1book1review‘s thoughts on the writing and the characters, as well as her conflict over the ending, in her video here.
| Purple Hibiscus | Algonquin Books | 2003 | paperback | purchased |