Book Review: Purple Hibiscus

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Kambili, a young girl growing up in Nigeria is caught between the old “pagan” ways and her strict Catholic upbringing.

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Kambili, a young girl growing up in Nigeria is caught between the old “pagan” ways and her strict Catholic upbringing.

Her life is structured and ruled by her wealthy authoritarian Catholic father, however a trip to visit her Auntie in another town shows her another way of living. Her life is lived under his shadow and regulated by schedules: prayer, sleep, study, and more prayer.

She lives in fear of his violence and the words in her textbooks begin to turn to blood in front of her eyes. When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father, involved in mysterious ways with the unfolding political crisis, sends Kambili and her brother away to their aunt’s. The house is noisy and full of laughter.

Here she discovers love and a life -- dangerous and heathen -- beyond the confines of her father’s authority.
The visit will lift the silence from her world and, in time, reveal a terrible, bruising secret at the heart of her family life.

Kambili has trouble accepting this alternative lifestyle and feels torn between the two. With the help of her brother, auntie, cousins, and a priest, she begins to see other ways of thinking and acting than her father expects.

Purle Hibiscus is a haunting tale of an African adolescent undergoing tremendous change.

The world of a fifteen-year-old is circumscribed by the high walls. It also highlights the injustices that have taken place in Nigeria. It is about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between the old gods and the new; between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred.

Her father’s newspaper is under pressure from the new government, the lecturers have gone on strike at the university where Aunty Ifeoma teaches, and corruption runs rampant throughout the country.

It is a time of great turmoil, both personal and political, and the lives of all the main characters are brought to crisis points.

In this beautifully written and poignant first novel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers a moving and nuanced exploration of the ongoing tension between the forces of oppression and the irrepressible human desire to be free.

According to a Washington Post review, Adichie is at her best in giving the traumatized Kambili a playful individual dignity that challenges the humorless power-mongering of her father and her country’s dictators.

When Eugene’s paper criticizes the dictatorship and is forced underground, Kambili reflects: “I knew that publishing underground meant that the newspaper would be published from a secret location.

Yet I imagined . . . the staff in an office beneath the ground, a fluorescent lamp flooding the dark damp room, the men bent over their desks, writing the truth.”

The review end that, in this thinking, she is very much the 21st-century daughter of that other great Igbo novelist, Chinua Achebe.


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