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, this is what Purple Hibiscus is about in a nutshell. I had heard about this novel a few months ago on Anne Bogel’s “What should I read next?” podcast but I only picked it up last week. Little did I expect to be so captivated by the story that I couldn’t put down for two days until I found myself entangled in the richness of Adichie’s literary style and her impressive storytelling voice.
The story opens at the heart of the family nest composed of fifteen years-old Kambili, her older bother Jaja as well as their parents Eugene (Papa) and Beatrice (Mama). The reader is immediately immersed in an atmosphere filled with formal family and religious rituals, authoritative schedules designed by Papa and a heavy pressure to excel academically that culminates in an unfair disappointment of Kambili for coming second instead of first in her class ranking.
Tradition against modernity, worship against secularism, empathy and love against family violence, those are the contrasting atmospheres that will make Kambili and Jaja question their life and family when repeatedly visiting her cousins in Nsukka where she will discover that her father’s abuse and strictness were abnormal to say the least, in comparison to the welcoming openness of her aunt and the accepted playfulness of her cousins.
Social class conflicts are explored from an interesting perspective through the subtle remarks and criticism that Kambili is faced with when her cousins compare their very different lifestyles: the former being extremely privileged and the latter at the lower end of the spectrum. Religion is emphasized in the story especially through the conflict between Eugene and his father: heavy tensions between a conservative Catholic son and a traditional Igbo ritual-following father. The important theme of freedom is similarly stressed whether it is through the idea of freedom of faith, freedom of speech within the political field as presented by Papa’s activism and the stifling censorship and corruption Nigerians were confronted to.
All in all, I truly enjoyed reading Purple Hibiscus and I aspire to read so many more books by the author! Perhaps my next read will be “Americanah” or “Half of a yellow sun”.