Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Title: Purple Hibiscus
Author: Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
Length: 307 pages
Genre: Fiction, General
Publisher / Year: Anchor Books / 2003
Source: The incredible and amazing Carin sent me this book which she got SIGNED by the author.
Why I Read It: Adichie is one of my favorite authors, I finally read her first book and the only one I hadn’t read yet.
Date Read: 01/09/11
I started with Adichie’s most recent publication, her collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, and really enjoyed it. From there I read Half of a Yellow Sun, her second published work, and loved it as well. This left only her first work, Purple Hibiscus, and although it’s been on my shelf for quite some time I had been putting off reading it because it’s sad knowing I have nothing left by her to read, but I finally sat down with it and I am a bit disappointed with myself for waiting so long!
This novel follows Kambili, a young girl of 15, through a few years of her life. We come to find that she lives with her wealthy parents and her elder brother, and that her father is very heavily religious but also very abusive at home. The children have strict schedules which they must follow and if they do anything outside of what he allows, or if they don’t come first in their grade, or if they feel sick or anything, they are punished brutally.
Through the novel we get a taste of life in Nigeria as the middle-class is falling away and the economic situation is increasingly polarizing people into either rich or poor. We also see what life can be like when a military dictator takes over, and the myriad ways this can affect regular life – especially for anyone involved in reporting the news. In addition to this though, the book gives a glimpse into a life with an abusive parent, into life with fundamentalist religion holding sway over all decisions, and shows how people can become so used to this as a regular way of life that it can be both internalized and accepted, and how hard it can be to break away.
What I love most about this work is how it highlights the difference between true religion and between religion used as a punishment / fundamental religion. It discusses some of the fault lines between religion and culture and the ways in which Christianity changed the Igbo culture for the worst and the ways it was used to colonize and pacify the people, and break them up.
The other thing I love is how she writes the abuser-abusee relationship so well. Adichie has written, in Kambili, a character who I think many will be able to empathize with, even as she loves her father. She has been raised with this abuse and so to her it is normal and is not incompatible with love. To her young mind, her father can love her and yet still punish her, and it confuses her when she tries to break the two apart and differentiate between real love and abuse. I love the nuance that was written in to the book to portray how it’s not always so easy to just break away or recognize it for what it is.
This was an emotionally powerful story that, as is typical with Adichie, was incredibly well written. I can’t recommend her works highly enough and do hope that she keeps publishing.