Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. They live in a beautiful house, with a caring family, and attend an exclusive missionary school. They’re completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating.
As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority. Books cram the shelves, curry and nutmeg permeate the air, and their cousins’ laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.
Purple Hibiscus is an exquisite novel about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the powerful bonds of family, and the bright promise of freedom.
2003 was a year overpowered by huge book releases, particularly the fifth Harry Potter book and The DaVinci Code. In the midst of all of this, Purple Hibiscus is released, flies pretty much under the radar, but becomes the start of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s important and spellbinding career. Her subsequent books have made her influential and well-regarded, but this debut should not be overlooked when discussing her canon. Sure Half of the Yellow Sun and Americanah are more recognized (the latter being developed for an HBO series releasing later this year), but her debut is still important, still relevant, still an amazing work that should be read.
The novel centers around 15 year old Kambili and her trying to navigate the world that is rapidly changing. Besides the Nigerian government being in turmoil, her brother is at odds with her father and her father causes tension in the entire house. Her life and the lives around her continue to fall apart as the story moves on, and there are times when Kambili is trying to understand a world that is almost too grown up for her to understand. There are many times when she is part of conversations that she does not exactly comprehend, and the solutions that she comes up with are not as simple as she thinks. Many of those characters that influence her life on a daily basis are not good for her, but she is not old enough to leave them behind. The biggest villain in all of this is her father.
Eugene Achike is one of the scariest villains I have ever read. He owns factories, runs a political newspaper, is a devout Catholic, gives freely to charity, orphanages, and the church, and he is also the catalyst to the violence, rage, and abuse in the house. There is not a single scene where I cannot feel the fear, the fear that one of his children will say something or do something that he does not agree with, and the wait from the public space to the private home is excruciating. I can feel the tension when Kambili or her brother Jaja offends him in one way or another, to the point where I am as afraid of his wrath as his children and his wife. The juxtapose of his public image versus his private actions is incredible, and he is a character that most likely could not be written by most writers. If someone is to ask me what makes Ms. Adichie such a talented author or even how to write a great villain, I would use Papa as my first example.
There are so many early works by so many different authors I need to read, and I have had Purple Hibiscus for a long time. Even though I finished this novel close to 17 years after it’s first release, this is a story that is timeless, that it has aged gracefully. It is an important piece of literature that will always be worth the time.