Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.
When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways. This is a book about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new.
I’ve been hearing great things about Adichie’s work for so long it’s hard for me to believe that it’s actually taken until just now for me to finally pick up one of her books. Purple Hibiscus is my first Adichie read and it is a wonderful book, just like bloggers have been telling me for years (well, pretty much since I started blogging).
I enjoy reading multicultural fiction because it usually introduces me to world events that I know very little about, or at least cultures that I’m somewhat unfamiliar with. Purple Hibiscus is one of the few books (if not THE only book) I’ve read that takes place in Nigeria, and the novel definitely provided some of that cultural experience which I so appreciate in multicultural fiction. The book deals with some of the details of Nigerian government and the ways in which those who spoke against the government were treated (badly). More than that, though, this book is about Kambili – her family, her life as a teenager in Nigeria, and how she grew up over the course of the novel.
What I loved about Purple Hibiscus is that Kambili is just like any other teen stuck in a family situation that isn’t the greatest. She has to deal with her oppressive, abusive father, and with her passive mother, and with navigating her way through life while trying to follow the rules her father (and her church) has set for her. And generally speaking, Kambili deals with all these aspects of her life in the same kind of way most teenagers would – she handles it okay, but internally wonders when she’ll be able to have a better, less restrictive life. Also, she vacillates frequently between loving and hating her father. Since her father is such a well-respected man in the community, Kambili is incredibly proud of him, proud to be his daughter and a part of his church. Yet he is so abusive that she can’t help but hate him too. I like that Adichie showed Kambili having both feelings towards her father; it was incredibly realistic. Most people who are abused still love their abuser – especially when he/she is manipulative like Kambili’s father. And as Kambili started to grow up a little more, she slowly started to see her father in a new light – started to realize the bad parts of him were more of his personality than she may have previously understood. I loved reading about her transformation – not only in her feelings towards her father, but in her thoughts about her first love, her feelings on her other family members, and everything else.
Purple Hibiscus was a very good novel, I could feel Kambili as if she was a real person, and the story was paced very well. The secondary characters were interesting and complete and I felt like I got to know everyone in this book extremely well. And Adichie’s writing is simply beautiful. I know I classified the book as Young Adult, but that’s simply because the novel was in the YA section at my library – it could easily be enjoyed as a non-YA novel too. I absolutely recommend this book and I’m hoping to read more of Adichie’s work very soon!
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