Purple Hibiscus: A review on one of Africa's finest debut novel

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Purple Hibiscus

Inasmuch as Kambili and Jaja love the new life they found while living with their aunt, a tragedy forces them home.

Item reviewed

Purple Hibiscus

Review type

Book

Review

The book opens with an act of defiance when Kambili's brother, Jaja, refuses to go to Communion.

“Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère. We had just returned from church”.

Those were the lines used by Chimamanda Adichie, with the voice of fifteen years old Kimbali, to begin what will go down to be one of the strongest debuts since Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things.”

Purple Hibiscus, tells of a teenager watching her family break down in a country that that seems to be following route.

The events take place in Igboland in Eastern Nigeria, and the narrator, Kambili, is the obedient only daughter of a harsh Roman Catholic patriarch, Eugene.

Eugene is a wealthy local manufacturer in the city of Enugu. He is also the sole proprietor of a newspaper in which he bravely champions freedom of speech against military tyranny at the same time, the tyranny which he fights against is what he rules his home with.

The oppression that haunts almost every page of Purple Hibiscus is difficult to describe; but with the painting of an unquestionable faith in religion, an illustration can be given.

According to the story, Kambili, our 15-year-old heroine, lives with her older brother Jaja and her parents. Her father is a great and wealthy man in their village.

He is the owner of several factories and a newspaper that promotes a democratic government.

In addition, he is very powerful within the local Catholic Church and openly opposes more traditional “pagan” religions. He shuns his own father who he sees as a pagan.

Although he is admired and revered in the community, he is more of a tyrant at home. And due to some threats against his newspaper, he reluctantly allows his children to spend some time with their Aunty Ifeoma and her three children.

It was there, in the home of Aunty Ifeoma that Kambili and Jaja experienced a very different family life where children can speak their minds and have opinions.

Also, it was here Aunty Ifeoma that Kambili finds her voice and falls in love for the first time.

She falls in love with a local priest who is a friend of Aunty's family.

 

This is not the creepy love with a pedophile priest, but the innocent first love of a teenage girl for a man who cares for her and encourages her independence but not her romantic notions.

However, inasmuch as Kambili and Jaja love the new life they found while living with their aunt, a tragedy forces them home.

And as a result of the tragedy, the siblings are compelled to become adults almost overnight.

In Purple Hibiscus, the worst kind of oppression which seems to be the stifling power of abuse is wrought by Kambili’s father, “Papa”.

Papa is an interesting character study– a person so completely sold on the superiority of the Western mode of thought and action, especially through religion, that he will stop at nothing to see it enforced in his own house.

He is undeniably consumed by the raw extremes of passion—extreme love and, worse, extreme anger.

As a matter of fact, with Adichie’s descriptions of Papa's stifling presence, one's heart bleeds for the family.

Papa is a complex picture of a man struggling with his own demons, taking out his struggles on those he loves: his wife, Beatrice, son, Jaja, and Kambili herself.

It should be hard to sympathize with a man who beats his pregnant wife and who, after deploring the soldiers' torture of his editor with lighted cigarettes, pours boiling water over the bare feet of his adored daughter as a punishment for coming second in class.

And yet Eugene, self-made and ultimately self-hating, is the book's loneliest character; his misunderstanding of Christianity has led him to reject the animist beliefs of his own aging father and to repudiate the old man himself, perversely hating the sinner more than the sin.

Kambili writes of her father at one point: “It was… as if something weighed him down, something he could not throw off”.

Purple Hibiscus is a story of many emotions. It is a story about family and the lengths we will go to protect our family.

It is a story about Nigeria, political unrest, and religious fanaticism. It is also a story about love, faith, and freedom.

Sincerely speaking, enough cannot be said about the wonderful things this book renders to its readers. The story is not only interesting and gripping, it is also beautiful and horrific.

 

The dexterity in which the story was crafted will want to make you read it quickly to tear yourself out of the suspense. But the poetic sweetness of its words will definitely slow you down for the purpose of enjoyment.

Upon reading the first few pages of the book, one would think that it is a story of adolescence, of a bright young girl coming of age.

Surely, you will expect more hormones, more rebellion, more Kambili.

However, what you will find is that Kambili is telling a story. And it is a story that is obviously bigger than she is.

You can deem her a protagonist if you want, but oftentimes her job is to watch, to try to understand, to follow.

It can be said that the narration is her chance to speak, something she rarely does in her life at the beginning. Painfully shy, even around her family, Purple Hibiscus gives Kambili the chance to find her own voice.

Purple Hibiscus is a keeper. It is sharp, passionate, and compelling. I would, if I can, buy a thousand copies and hand them out to strangers.

Review rating

I rate Purple Hibiscus 8/10. It is one of the strongest debuts since Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

Created by

Chimamanda Adichie

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