Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Harper Perennial, 2005 (first published by Fourth Estate, 2004)
Told from the point of view of 15-year-old Kambili, this story outlines the abuse her, her brother Jaja, and mother Beatrice suffer at the hands of their dominating, religious father. Outwardly, they appear to have everything; as a wealthy, well-connected, powerful man, her father Eugene is well respected in their community for his generosity and unwavering dedication to telling the truth in tumultuous times through his newspaper. However, at home his family live in fear of his violent outbursts.
When Kambili and Jaja stay with relatives, their eyes are opened to a whole different way of life. Nothing will ever be the same again. Combine this with Kambili’s sexual awakening, and the political turmoil wracking Nigeria that impacts directly on their lives just when it seems there might be a way out, and you have a gripping story that will have you hooked right until the end.
The way the portrayal of Kambili subtly changes is very well done. Although she doesn’t explicitly say or think certain things, they are deftly portrayed in her manners and wishes. The descriptions of religious rites, food preparation, and the differences in living standards between those with money and those without is fascinating.
I found it sad that the relationship between Kambili and Jaja seemed to break down over the course of the novel. Jaja more willingly embraced the changes, whereas a part of Kambili still wanted to make her father proud. Eugene is a complex character – a monster at home, yet a saint in the wider community.
This is a book about fear and prejudice, religious intolerance and domestic abuse. But also about hope, love, laughter, strong women, and forgiveness. Adichie is a masterful storyteller, enchantingly evoking images of Nigeria that are neither maudlin nor all negative. Her love and respect for the country shines through, yet she does not shy away from also highlighting imperfections.
A moving and triumphant story, brilliantly told.