Synopsis: The limits of fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world are defined by the high walls of her family estate and the dictates of her fanatically religious father. Her life is regulated by schedules: prayer, sleep, study, prayer.
When Nigeria is shaken by a military coup, Kambili’s father, involved mysteriously in the political crisis, sends her to live with her aunt. In this house, noisy and full of laughter, she discovers life and love – and a terrible, bruising secret deep within her family.
Title: Purple Hibiscus
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of those authors that I’ve always meant to read but never actually gotten round to (my to-read list increases exponentially). With Half of A Yellow Sun hitting the silver screen, I took it as a sign that I need to get through her entire collection before I watch the film. Yes, I’m one of those annoying people that refuses to watch films unless I’ve read the book. I started my reading mission at 10pm with her debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, and finished exactly 4 hours later, give or take a few minutes.
Set in post-colonial Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus is a tale of sexual and political awakening; its narrator, Kambili – like her country itself – undergoes a huge transformation. Nigeria’s chaotic social, political, and religious climate at the time permeates every aspect of Kambili’s life. Her father’s public facade is one of a rich and courageous newspaper publisher and philanthropist that dares to publish the truth; but behind closed doors, he is a tyrannical religious fanatic who, under the precept of ‘saving his children’, commits horrific acts of domestic abuse.
This is an astounding coming of age story written from the perspective of a 15-year old girl who must come to terms with the realities of having an abusive, puritanical and fanatically religious father. Adichie delineates Kambili’s fear superbly; you can’t help but empathise with what this family are going through.
Kambili’s narration of a life shaken by domestic violence and turmoil reflects her painfully shy and submissive character. Despite the violence, she strives to make her father proud in any way possible. It is only after she and brother, Jaja, visit their outspoken and spirited aunt and cousins that she learns to express herself and accept the unjust nature of her situation.
The characters are multi-dimensional and absorbing, and the story harrowing and unpredictable. Adichie’s artful inclusion of local dialect and her atmospheric style of description paint a portrait of Nigeria that is detailed, accurate and yet challenging. She manages to beautifully celebrate both the good and bad qualities of the country. Adichie achieves the perfect balance of setting the scene and being sufficiently descriptive, while never allowing the depictions to become didactic or tedious.
Unfortunately this means that I will be putting all of her books on my to read list … like I didn’t have enough to get through already!