My last review of the year is here and of course it had to be a book by Chimamanda Adichie! She is after all only one of my favourite authors of all time but I digress. Some of you (read my friend Mumbe) may be wondering why it took me so long to finally read this book. In all honesty, I actually never paid it any attention. Well not until I started getting into a lot of African literature reading earlier this year. I had already read all of Adichie’s other books before this year began but since this was her very first novel, decided to finally give it a chance this year. I’m really glad I did.
Purple Hibiscus is a novel that chronicles a young Nigerian girl’s life in the chaos that has taken over the country since their independence. The story, narrated by 15-year-old Kambili, is a indepth look at her dysfunctional family and how she is struggling to find herself and mature amongst all the chaos within her home and in her country.
Kambili is a shy 15-year-old girl who is learning all there is to know about the world around her, somehow guided by her dictator of a father. The story draws us in immediately when we first see the Achikes at home on Palm Sunday, a day when her brother, Jaja refused to go receive communion at mass. Her father angry at his son for committing such a sin, smashes her mother’s beloved figurines that she would varnish and shine daily.
The story goes on to tell the tale of the family’s daily hardship to stay perfect in the eyes of their ‘headmaster’, the head of household, Eugene Achike. He may be super strict at home but out to society he is looked at by many as Nigeria’s saving grace thanks to his philanthropic nature and his zeal to preach the ways of God and fight for human rights by publishing thought provoking stories in his newspaper that challenges the military currently ruling the country.
Eugene Achike is a character reminiscent of many if not all African fathers out there, especially those who are preachers/priests and fathers. Somehow eveything about him, reminded me of my own father; how he was all about rules all the time and how everything had to be done in a particular way or not at all. How angry he would get if we failed an exam or never came top of the class like he always was… This book took me back to parts of my life I had kept locked away in my mind for a long long time.
A change of scenery in Kambili’s life occurs when her and her brother get to go and visit their Aunt Ifeoma and cousins in Nsukka. Her aunt is a university lecturer and lives on campus in mediocre housing with her three children. The vast difference between her life here and her life back at home is well described as we see her cousin, Amaka taunt her for not being able to do simple things such as make gaari/eba (cassava dish native to Nigeria). It is while here in Nsukka that Kambili matures faster and learns a lot about how life should be according the world and not according to her father. Her cousins are just as independent and outspoken as their mother and her brother Jaja soon becomes the same way after realising that he too has the right to stand up to their father if something feels wrong to him.
In her aunt’s home, are blooming purple hibiscuses. These are symbolic of the hope the family still carries with them despite the dire conditions they live in. Their hope doesn’t falter as later on, we learn that she was able to secure a US Visa to go and teach in America, and escape the chaos here in Nigeria. Aunt Ifeoma is another strong character who was developed really well as the story goes along. She is one of the few people who can stand up to her brother without any fear or punishment rendered to her afterwards from him. She may also be the reason Kambili’s mother finally found the strength to take matters into her own hands and get freedom from Eugene by gradually poisoning him.
The story is told through Kambili’s eyes, narrated so skilfully from start to finish you almost feel like you were there with her, feeling every punishment she received from her father, hearing every insult she received from girls in her school and smelling the palm oil while ignoring the constant heat at her Aunt Ifeoma’s house in Nsukka.
It has a lot of intrigue, drama and suspense filled with sparks of humour here and there and a tiny bit of romance actually – spoiler alert – Kambili gets her first crush in Nsukka. All in all, Adichie, even at her first try with this novel, was clearly destined for success as this book was more than just another story from Africa. It is a great coming-of-age story and extremely engaging, you will not want to put it down once you start it.
Hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.
P.S: Thinking about starting a rating system on these reviews – probably add a poll to let you vote on how much you liked or did not like the book reviewed on #TypewriterTuesdays. Thoughts? Yay or nay, let me know below:)
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