A dive into the cultural and political heritage of Nigeria, a striking realism emanating from the characters at all times, the depth of family bonds: Purple Hibiscus in a nutshell. Little did I expect to be so captivated by the story that I wouldn’t be able to put it down for two days until I found myself entangled in the richness of Adichie’s literary style and her impressive storytelling voice. Tradition against modernity, worship against secularism, empathy and love against family violence: these are the contrasting atmospheres which make the two main characters Kambili and Jaja question their life and family when they visit their cousins in Nsukka. Overthere, they will discover that their father’s abuse and strictness are abnormal, to say the least, in comparison to the welcoming openness of their aunt and the accepted playfulness of their cousins.
As a Nigerian born author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie provides us with a rich and evocative sense of her homeland where conformity and oppression seem to be of intrinsic normality. The story begins soon after a coup in Nigeria and is narrated by 15 years old Kambili who recounts vivid emotion her life with her parents and older brother, Jaja. Soon enough, the reader realizes that the children live with an extremely controlling father whose last word shall be respected to avoid mental and physical abuse. His smothering character reigns over all areas of the family household: religion, school, visits to the extent of making his children stick to a tailored schedule of his own. While the novel focuses on family dynamics and the characters’ growth, I learned a lot about the political, social, and religious landscape of Nigeria. Many interesting themes are explored such as social class conflicts, freedom, faith, and censorship .
The writing is beautiful and infused with emotion, without ever becoming too flowery. I could literally feel the heat and tension unfolding with the story as if I was personally living the coming of age story of Kambili and Jaja. The siblings are so touching and gentle that they are so memorable in their complexity and humanity. I hated the behavior of the father, yet I don’t know how but there were some moments in the book when I couldn’t help but feel pity for him. My favorite part of the story is when Kambili and Jaja visited their cousins and slowly started to realize that what they were living at home was so foreign to families that fostered love and kindness at all times. It became clear to them that children were indeed allowed to laugh, play, rest without ever being seen as sinful. It almost felt liberating to me to read about the moment when it just clicked to them that there was much more to life than living in constant fear and tension.
All in all, I truly enjoyed reading Purple Hibiscus and I aspire to read more books by the author! Perhaps my next read will be “Americanah” or “Half of a yellow sun”. Get ready, because if you pick up this book, the story will hit you in the heart.