Purple Hibiscus’s heroine is 15 year-old Kambili who is raised in a very uptight, almost delusional, rich Catholic family in Nigeria. The family that is run by tyrannical Papa, who is truthfully a very frustrating and depressing character, because he doesn’t just abuse. He abuses in the name of God and cries like he’s forced to by divine hands.
You wouldn’t realize it at the beginning though, because Kambili is so reserved and so in awe of her father, that as the narrator, she doesn’t tell you the story as it is. It feels like she tries to hide the fact that her father isn’t the perfect guy she desperately believes and wants him to be. That’s probably why for the first half of the book, I felt the story was almost static. It was a fine family story, but I wasn’t sure where it’s gonna go.
It peaks in the middle of the book when something terrible happens to Kambili and it is a revelation to everyone. And by everyone, I mean Kambili, her family, and us readers. At this point we’re definitely sure what’s going on and it is not right. That’s when the pace starts to pick up and the storyline runs with full force.
As central characters, apart from Kambili’s immediate family: Jaja her older brother, Papa and Mama, there are Aunty Ifeoma and her three children, and Papa-Nnukwu (Papa and Aunty Ifeoma’s father, Kambili’s grandfather). They play a big part in showing Kambili and Jaja the real world, the other world, just a different world with the one they’ve been living.
I often found myself wanting to shake Kambili to open her eyes, to stop yearning for approvals from her father, to see things as they are. On the other hand, I pity her and probably understand in some ways. Fortunately her character is developing throughout the book and we are left with hopes in the end. For me it doesn’t end up bleak. It ends okay.
The mood and atmosphere of the book reminds me of The Color Purple. Somehow when I started reading I had the impression that there would be politics involved. There are some, but really, it’s a story about family and religion. I love the writing. It’s very accessible and it captures the innocence of a confined 15 year-old.
2003, 302 pp
2005 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize – Best First Book
Shortlisted for 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction
Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the etagere. (inspired by Adichie’s favorite author Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart)
The new rains will come down soon.
“Papa spent some time describing hell, as if God did not know that the flames were eternal and raging and fierce.” ~ p61
“She said ‘teenagers’ as if she were not one, as if teenagers were a brand of people who by not listening to culturally conscious music, were a step beneath her. And she said ‘culturally conscious’ in the proud way that people say a word they never knew they would learn until they do.” ~ p118
Chimamanda Adichie’s Top Ten Favorite Books (I found at the end of this book):
- Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe
- Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi
- The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
- Efuru by Flora Nwapa
- Reef by Romesh Gunesekera
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane (aren’t they Harry Potter’s friends? :P)
- A Strange and Sublime Address by Amit Chaudhuri
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If You Loved This, You Might Like … (also at the end of this book)
- Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
- Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangeremgba
- Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta
- Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee
- In the Heart of the Country by J. M. Coetzee
- The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing
- Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid
- A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
- Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Also reviewed by
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