A coming-of-age story of a young girl in Nigeria - Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: General Fiction
Published 2003, 307 pages
Although she's written several books since this first novel, most notably Americanah, this is the first I've read and it's a real winner. The writing is excellent: evocative, moving, not filled with cliches.
This is the second book set in Nigeria that I've read this month. How Beautiful We Were is also very evocative of Nigeria and gives some insight into a tribal lifestyle as the young people try to save their village from an American oil company polluting their village lands. I feel lucky to have found two such intriguing books so close together!
Although the theme of abuse is prevalent throughout this book, I found myself caught up and thoroughly enjoying the story. Set in Nigeria and in a severely strict Catholic household where the father rules with a mixture of physical and emotional abuse, the family dynamics are similar to many abusive families. His public persona is of a caring, generous, patient man. But, behind the closed doors of their exclusive compound, the reality is very different. The family walks on eggshells, rarely speaks except to spout religious phrases or agree with him, and lives by a very rigid schedule.
Told in first person through Kambili's eyes, it's sometimes a tough story to read, but I appreciated the growth of the young girl Kambili, when at 14 she and her older brother get to go stay with her aunt and experience a new way of living. Seeing people talk, argue, laugh, hug, and manage to do all this while living in poverty is eye-opening to Kambili and her older brother. A gradual shift in her view of life begins and the book explores this coming of age very well.
Kambili tries to reconcile the love she feels for her father and her desire to seek his approval with her newly found awareness of a different way to live life. I feel like this was portrayed with authenticity.
The contrast between a wealthy Nigerian family and one living in poverty is handled beautifully and I liked the exposure to Nigerian culture and the contrast between the "old Gods" and the new "white man's God". As always, I like learning about something from a new perspective.
As Kambili's aunt is trying to obtain a visa to move her family to America, she says:
"If they [the government] are in a good mood, they will give you a visa, if not, they will refuse you. It is what happens when you are worthless in somebody's eyes. We are like footballs that they can kick in any direction they want to."
The father (always Papa), is a publisher of a newspaper that prints negative things about the government. That does set some context for the story - the unrest and corruption of the government. However, it was on the periphery of my involvement in the story - Kambili and her brother Jaja were so strong and interesting, I barely remember the political aspect of the book!
"There are people who think that we cannot rule ourselves because the few times we tried, we failed, as if all the others who rule themselves today got it right the first time. It is like telling a crawling baby who tries to walk, and then falls back on his buttocks, to stay there. As if the adults walking past him did not all crawl, once."
I found this book after a couple of mentions on the #WhatShouldIReadNext podcast - a favorite source of books for my TBR list. If you haven't discovered it yet, give it a try. Anne has an encyclopedic knowledge of books she's read!