I loved Purple Hibiscus. Chimamanda Adichie is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. This book is about a 15 year old girl named Kambili. She tells the story of what her life was like growing up in a wealthy Nigerian household with an intensely religious father. Her life revolved around her family. The novel reflects this, as it is primarily about how Kambili’s family teachers her how to become a stronger and more independent woman. Kambili is originally very introverted, she does not do things for fun nor have friends. She does her schoolwork and nothing else. She has to be number one in her class or else she will get in trouble with her father, who is very religious, and very abusive. The environment Kambili lives in is very oppressive and frightening. Her role in the household is that of the dutiful daughter who does not question what the Church or her father tells her. When Kambili starts spending time with her Aunt and cousins her view of the world starts to change, it becomes wider and she hesitantly starts questioning her father’s practices like his extreme intolerance of other religions.
It was not until the end of the novel that I paid any attention to the structure of the book. Kambili tells the story in three parts, Palm Sunday, Before Palm Sunday, and After Palm Sunday. Most of the book is about Before Palm Sunday. I like the way it is set up. The first chapter is actually the climax of the story. Kambili’s brother Jaja rebels against Eugene which starts a chain of events that will eventually set Kambili free.
I am starting to notice that Adichie likes to give mute characters a voice through written words. Kambili is such a frightened girl that she hardly ever speaks, and yet she is the narrator. I like that Adichie does this because it shows a different view point, Kambili is not a heroin, but she is a protagonist. Reading the story of this very troubled family through Kambili’s eyes brings an interesting perspective.
The novel paints a very vivid picture of Nsukkah, a city in Nigeria that centers around a university. Kambili’s Aunt, Ifeoma, is a Professor at the university and is being accused of saying bad things about the way the university is run, which she indeed has done. The politics of the university are a background to Kambili’s story; you hear her cousins talking about the student riots, and the fact that Ifeoma has not been getting paid regularly, but Kambili never really comments on it. However, Nsukkah creates a great place for Kambili to escape from her father’s home. The feeling in Aunty Ifeoma’s house is the exact opposite of Kambili’s house. It is small and there is not always running water or electricity. But more than that, Aunty Ifeoma’s house is full of laughter and people talking openly and freely. Kambili has a hard time adjusting to this at first because she is too afraid to speak, but she eventually learns how to stand up for herself. In Nsukkah, the city of rioting students and controversial politics, Kambili learns how to express herself through words.
Aunty Ifeoma and her daughter Amaka, serve as strong female role models for Kambili. Aunt Ifeoma is nowhere near as rich as Eugene, but she is still a successful woman. Aunty Ifeoma is a strong woman who does not need a man to be able to take care of herself and her three children. She is educated and independent. Amaka is very smart as well, and she is very passionate about social justice. Amaka is the one who teaches Kambili to stand up for what is right and wrong. She forces Kambili to stand up for herself. Ifeoma and Amaka are not your stereotypical passive female characters. Adichie often has characters in her novels that are strong, independent women, which is not usual in other forms of Nigerian literature and film.
I loved Purple Hibiscus and cannot wait to spend my summer reading other novels by Adichie.