15-year-old Kambili and her brother Jaja live a privileged life – they have a beautiful home and a great education. Yet their lives revolve around wanting to impress their strict and overtly religious father. When Nigeria is struck by a sudden military coup, Kambili and her brother are sent to live with their aunt and cousins who live outside the city. Away from the confines of her father’s domineering presence, Kambili begins to find her voice – as well as friendship and love. When they return home, tensions within the family begin to grow – will Kambili protect her loved ones, or will her family be torn apart?
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the story of Kambili, her brother Jaja, and their family. During the first few chapters, I wasn’t really sure whether this was going to be my kind of read or not, but I’m so glad that I continued to read it.
What I think Adichie does brilliantly in this book is prove how life can work in paradoxes. Kambili’s family are wealthy and well-respected, but her father is strictly religious, violent, and oppressive. Kambili spends her life both terrified of her father, but wanting to live up to his expectations at the same time. On the flip side, Kambili’s aunt and cousins are poor, but they live a happy life – they can communicate freely with one another, and they can laugh and have fun. When Kambili and Jaja are sent to spend time with their aunt, Kambili begins to learn that life can be different from what she is used to.
Kambili’s father is a terrifying character who uses religion as a way to punish his family for minor errors. But despite his so many flaws as a husband and father, he uses his wealth and power to do good within their community. He fed those less privileged than him, and I think he thought his aggression was for the best of the family. It’s odd how you can hate a character but pity them at the same time. There are so many contradictions in the novel, which makes for a really interesting and thought-provoking read.
I deeply sympathised with Kambili, a shy 15-year-old who is clearly traumatised by her father’s actions. It was wonderful to read her transition from this scared girl, to someone who can speak up and use her voice all thanks to her aunt and cousins, who essentially help save her and her brother.
I also loved reading about Nigerian culture, from the food they ate to the different religions practised. It was also enlightening to read about the impact of the coup on the native population, a subject which I know very little about. It’s ironic how the downfall of Nigeria and Kambili’s family happen almost simultaneously (another example of Adichie’s clever writing).
In general, the plot is fairly simple, but it does have a large climax towards the end which completely threw me off guard. Despite the simpler narrative, I was gripped and fascinated throughout.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and it truly takes you on a journey. This definitely won’t be the last Adichie novel I read!
“Defiance is like marijuana – it is not a bad thing when it is used right.”
“It was what Aunty Ifeoma did to my cousins, I realized then, setting higher and higher jumps for them in the way she talked to them, in what she expected of them. She did it all the time believing they would scale the rod. And they did. It was different for Jaja and me. We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn't.”