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Hey guys, hope you’re all doing well and welcome back to Blogmas. Today we’re talking about books. I’m really excited to bring you the first of many book reviews on this blog! This is a spoiler-free review, but just to warn you, I will touch on some general plot points when sharing my opinions.
When my friend Dapo asked me what I wanted for my birthday, at the time I desperately missed reading for leisure like I used to back in school days. So I eagerly sent him a list which featured a couple of books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I had already read her book Americanah (mini book review here), so naturally Purple Hibiscus was top of my list. I was really excited to read Purple Hibiscus because it’s a popular and well-reviewed book among my contemporaries.
So when I found myself seriously struggling to get through the first 100 or so pages (and it is 307 pages long), I began to lose hope. But still, I persevered because people kept telling me “it’s a good book”, “it’s amazing!”, “trust me it gets better” etc. I’m glad I did persevere, although I’m not sure that it ever gets “better”. Rather I would argue that it becomes more engaging because of the series of rollercoaster-like traumatic events after the initial slow pace.
Purple Hibiscus was published in 2003 and it is Adichie’s first novel. The story takes place in the political turmoil of Nigeria during the 1990s and is carefully narrated by the inexperienced and naive eyes of young Kambili Achike.
Kambili is a 15-year-old Nigerian Igbo girl that lives in luxury in Enugu with her older brother Jaja, her doting mother Beatrice and her Catholic extremist father Eugene. Each family member is extremely complex and that’s one thing I have to credit Adichie for… her attention to detail. I have a pet peeve for one dimensional characters, but thankfully there isn’t much if any of that in this book. I have previously complained that Adichie’s other book Americanah wasted pages describing irrelevant characters but Purple Hibiscus refreshingly paints vivid images of the protagonist family.
As a result of the stifling Catholic parenting of her father, Kambili is lost and grossly underdeveloped in many ways for a girl of her age. She suffers at the hands of her father’s verbal and physical abuse and relies heavily on him for gratification. It saddened me to observe how Kambili lives in a bizarre mix of deep fear/admiration of her father. Furthermore, coming top of her class, following strict daily schedules and having little communication with non-Catholics/pagans are key features of Kambili’s upbringing in Enugu. But suddenly, her life takes a dramatic turn when she and her brother Jaja go to visit their widowed Aunty Ifeoma and her three children in Nsukka. In Nsukka, Kambili finds her voice. In every sense of the word. She slowly transitions out of her awkwardness towards her cousins (who are far more boisterous and charismatic than she ever imagined she could be under her father’s watch in Enugu), to building meaningful relationships with them.
Adichie unpacks several controversial themes and issues in Purple Hibiscus including the structure of families, religion and its abuse, colonialism and corruption, classism, the politics of the Nigerian education system, forbidden love and that’s just to name a few. If you want to read a book with real life Nigerian hardships, this could be for you.
My favourite character is Aunty Ifeoma, the quirky sister of Kambili’s father. I love how Adichie purposely juxtaposes siblings that have two completely different approaches to Christian life. The brother is massively invested in the church and determined for perfectionism in the sight of God almost to a fault, to the extent that he disowns his own ill father for being a pagan. Whilst the sister is a more carefree/less uptight Believer, taking each day as it comes, nursing her ill father and working as a lecturer in the University of Nigeria. I admire Aunty Ifeoma’s strength and courage. She is often seen to stand up for what she believes in whilst other female characters, for example Kambili’s mother and her circle of friends, do not.
When I eventually finished reading Purple Hibiscus I have to say, I felt deflated as I put the book down. My issue with the “ending” is the unrealistically rapid pace at which it all unfolds. I feel that Adichie rushes key events (which I won’t spoil because ultimately it is what the story is building up to in the slow beginning that I complained of earlier). As expectant and invested readers, we are barely given time to digest one piece of tragic information before the next unravels with little to no explanation following. On one hand, it was exciting to keep reading on through all of the dramatic twists and turns at the end. But on the other hand, the traditionalist in me found it difficult to accept the conclusion of the story. Having said that, despite my reservations about the main character Kambili for majority of the book, I eventually grew very fond of her. I became invested in reading about her growth and development as a young lady who was now finding her true identity; exploring her womanhood; even arguably falling in love (becoming infatuated). All of which seemed like alien concepts for her in the beginning. By the end, I actually cared to know what becomes of Kambili and her family in the future.
I realise there is a lot more that could be said about Purple Hibiscus… particularly on characters such as Kambili’s father and mother or the priest Father Amadi. But we can definitely continue discussion of the book in the comment section.
Have you guys read any of Adichie’s work? What did you think of Purple Hibiscus? And lastly, have you got any other book recommendations for me? (I enjoy fiction set in Nigeria or involving Nigerians in the diaspora, tales of coming-of-age and topical themes such as those mentioned above).
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.
God bless you!
*There are 12 days until Christmas!*
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