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Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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it was amazing
bookshelves: africa

I have really enjoyed reading Purple Hibiscus by Nigerian born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. An admirer of her compatriot, the writer Chinua Achebe, who wrote, amongst other things, Things fall apart, she begins her novel with the words : “Things started to fall apart at home…” Even if the use of these words is purely coincidental, they provide a very apt summary of what is going to happen during the following 300 pages.

The story is narrated by 15 year old Kambili. She and her brother Ja Ja are the children of Eugene, a wealthy industrialist living in the town of Enugu. Their father, who can best be described as a religious fanatic/nutcase, loves them dearly but needs them to conform to his every ambition for them. Thus, coming second in class rather than, is worse than failing completely.

The tale begins soon after there has been a coup in Nigeria. Eugene, who edits a newspaper that refuses to kowtow to anyone, employs an editor, whose critical writing attracts the fatal attention of the new regime’s hit men. His death does nothing to ease the stress he always imposes on himself, and this in turn causes him to punish his children excessively to the point of causing them serious injury. At times he behaves like a Crusader, defending the faith of his own children by resorting to cruelties, which seem totally incompatible with the parental affection, which he always professes after inflicting a terrible punishment.

Aunty Ifeoma, Eugene’s widowed sister, lives and teaches at a university in Nsukka. She has three children, is also Christian, but has a far more easy-going approach to religion than her brother. For example, her children are allowed to watch television when the erratic power supply allows, and are also permitted to see, to spend time with, her and Eugene’s father, Papa-Nnukwu, who lives in Abba.

Eugene and Ifeoma’s father is not Christian, and has no desire become one. When, early in the book, Aunty Ifeoma takes Eugene’s children to see their grandfather, Kambili and Ja Ja are reluctant to get out of the car to greet him because, as Kambili explains: “… Papa-Nnukwu is a pagan.” Ifeoma refutes this by saying that he is not a pagan but a “…traditionalist.” Eugene, who will have nothing to do with his father apart from sending him money, is not pleased that his children have had contact with a pagan, even this special one.

Against his better judgement, Eugene allows his sister to take his children to spend a few days in her home in Nsukka. On this first visit, Kambili and Jaja are like fish out of water in Ifeoma’s home. Ifeoma, who is a no nonsense, larger than life, open-hearted person, lives in a crowded book-filled flat - a complete contrast to the orderly home in which Eugene and his family live. Kambili’s cousins regard her and her brother as oddities, and the reverse is true. Ja Ja begins to adapt to the new environment, but Kambili, fearing her father’s disapproval, fights against adapting.

Enter Father Amadi. He is a new member of the chaplaincy of the University of Nsukka, young and attractive. He dresses casually and is a frequent visitor at Aunty Ifeoma’s house. When he first meets Eugene’s children, and says: “Nsukka has its charms”, Kambili thinks that he has: “… a singer’s voice, a voice that had the same effect on my ears that Mama working Pears baby oil into my hair had on my scalp.” And thus begins her infatuation with a man who has taken the vow of celibacy.

Kambili’s first visit to Nsukka is brief, but is the first of many for a variety of reasons, which I will not disclose to spoil the book for those intending to read it. The more informal, even though materially more difficult, life in Nsukka provides Kambili with an increasingly more attractive contrast to the rigid, but more affluent, life that she and her brother lead in Enugu. As the political situation impinges more on Eugene’s life, the environment and atmosphere in his sister’s home in Nsukka becomes increasingly appealing to Kambili, as does the prospect of seeing Father Amadi.

Gently and beautifully, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche describes the downfall of the family both in Enugu and in Nsukka, drawing us gradually towards an extraordinarily tragic ending. In unfolding her story, she introduces the reader to the customs, foods, and many other aspects of Nigerian life without, as so many writers tend to do, making her narrative seem like a series of chapters of a book, which might be titled something like “Introduction to Nigeria”.

Read The Purple Hibiscus. You won’t regret it!

PS: Throughout the book the author refers to the 'Igbo' language. I have only just found out that 'Igbo' is another spelling of 'Ibo' or 'Ebo' (and they all refer to an important Nigerian ethnic group).
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Reading Progress

July 6, 2012 – Started Reading
July 6, 2012 – Shelved
July 6, 2012 –
page 30
July 6, 2012 – Shelved as: africa
July 9, 2012 –
page 66
July 10, 2012 –
page 114
July 12, 2012 –
page 156
July 13, 2012 –
page 180
58.63% "This is a book to savour."
July 16, 2012 –
page 207
July 17, 2012 –
page 224
72.96% "Beautifully written. Harrowing incidents described with a delicate touch."
July 20, 2012 –
page 242
July 20, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

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Alex There is zero chance that any modern African writer uses those words by coincidence!

message 2: by Junnun (new)

Junnun I found the ended to Purple Hibiscus to be very surprising. I did not expect Mama to kill Papa. If anyone was to kill Papa, I suspected Jaja would be the one to do it. The main thing I found interesting about the book, however, was Papa's character. On one hand, Papa is a pretty devoted, generous, and kind Christian man. On the other, however, Papa beats his family, treating them with extreme cruelty. He seems to think that what he is doing is for god but sometimes I felt like he was insane.

Alex Junnun, I think that was the complicated and uneasy reaction Adichie was aiming to provoke.

message 4: by Derin (new) - added it

Derin Adebayo Junnun said

"The main thing I found interesting about the book, however, was Papa's character. On one hand, Papa is a pretty devoted, generous, and kind Christian man. On the other, however, Papa beats his family, treating them with extreme cruelty. He seems to think that what he is doing is for god but sometimes I felt like he was insane."

Nigeria is a very religious country, but also one of the most corrupt. Those two statements alone show there is a high level of hypocrisy in Nigeria.

A father beating his family, while being so generous is a very common( and very disturbing) trend on Nigeria.

Recently, a Pastor just divorced his wife(divorces are usually scandalous in Nigeria even among people who aren't particularly religious). Another was caught using his private jet to smuggle arms. Also, a church building collapsed, and the pastor is blaming UFOs/terrorists instead of accepting the responsibility. These are all highly respected pastors in Nigeria, and they STILL have large followings.

A highly religious person that beats his wife and kids is nothing compared to the real insanity many religious leaders show in Nigeria.

Corinne L. Thanks for the spoiler Junnun...

message 6: by Chrystelle (new)

Chrystelle Spoiler alert! thanks for ruining it for me.

message 7: by Kiki (new) - added it

Kiki Roddy I am often reluctant to read reviews because of spoilers.

message 8: by Natalie (new) - added it

Natalie West I love Chinua Achebe!

Hauwa Maina Please how will I read this novel

message 10: by Natalie (new) - added it

Natalie West Amazon Prime

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