Nicole N.'s Reviews > Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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Oct 22, 15

really liked it
bookshelves: contemporary, favorites

** spoiler alert ** “Purple Hibiscus” is Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel. After reading the works of fellow countryman Chinua Achebe, Adichie realized the Igbo culture was worth writing about. The influence of Achebe can be seen in the novel’s opening paragraph, “Things started falling apart…” (a reference to Achebe’s own work, Things Fall Apart). Gaining its independence from Great Britain on October 1, 1960, Adichie sheds light on the abuse by the British and Nigerian politicians that has oppressed her people for decades.

A coming-of-age novel about fifteen-year-old Kambili caught between the strict rules set at home by her zealous and wealthy Catholic father and the “different kind of freedom” she feels at her aunt’s house with her brother, Jaja, and their cousins. Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a strict Catholic and a prominent member in the church and community. Eugene also works at a newspaper that runs articles which protest against the military coups in Nigeria. Although he appears as a wonderful figure in the church and community, his homelife speaks differently. He physically abuses his children and his wife but attempts to justify his actions through religious obedience.

However, the risings of military coups cause Eugene to send his children to live with his sister Ifeoma, a widow and a professor at a local university who is directly affected by the military coups. At Aunty Ifeoma’s house, Kambili is flung into a home radically different than her own. There is laughter and loud talk at the dinner table. Prayers and rosaries are said different and idle time is new to Kambili. Getting water in the morning is a new experience as is not flushing the toilet unless absolutely necessary. And it is at her aunt’s home when she first catches sight of a purple hibiscus.

Even with such freedom, she appears lost, now knowing how to cope with the differences in which she lives. Kambili loves and longs for her father but his Catholicism makes him reject his own father, Papa-Nnukwu, whom he deems as a pagan (or a “traditionalist” as Aunty Ifeoma describes him), a man following the “old ways” and not worthy to invite into his home. However, when Kambili’s grandfather dies, Eugene contributes the most material and monetary value towards his funeral, furthering his status as a good community man. Kambili’s mother, Beatrice, on the other hand, is a quiet woman who submits to her husband while harboring secrets of her own.
Contending against Kambili’s strict home regime is her “culturally conscious” teenage cousin, Amaka. Amaka mocks Kambili and her home life, taking no pain to remind her that life and the daily routine at Aunty Imeofa’s house is different. This makes Kambili feel even more alone during her stay. Kambili takes Amaka’s criticism in silence, contemplating and holding on to it even though she longs for the connection Amaka has with Papa-Nnukwu.

Kambili also meets Father Amadi, a Catholic priest who represents a side of Catholicism that Kambili is not used to and is even unsure of. When she first meets Amadi, she cannot imagine calling him “Father” because he is dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. However, Amadi senses Kambili’s distance and urges her to join him as he plays with the children around the community, something she would never see her father do.

As the novel progresses, Kambili sees life beyond that at home and embraces the freedom at her aunt’s. Her usual actions towards her father such as hugging and kissing him are past actions. Beatrice, the silent but gentle mother, interrupts the flow of the household when her secret is discovered.

Adichie’s novel sheds light on the destructive aspects of a zealous religious man, Eugene, a representation of British and Nigerian political abuse. He abandons the needs of those close to him while contributing to the community and the Catholic Church, mere strangers compared to his family.
Adichie is not unfamiliar with Nigerian history or their struggle of independence from Britain. She sees the effects and problems the Church has brought to a typical Nigerian family and the struggles one faces in order to deal with the religious and secular cultures. Kambili is brought to life as she faces the dilemma of the strict life at home against a life of “freedom to be, to do,” a freedom just as rare as Aunty Ifeoma’s purple hibiscus growing in the garden.
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