Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Kim's Review: Purple Hibiscus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's debut novel set in Nigeria tells a simple story with a depth of details, undertones and overtones.

Purple Hibiscus is a first person account by 15 year old Kambili. Envied by her classmates and cousins for her fathers wealth and standing in the community and the church, she is thought of as snobbish, while she is actually a painfully introverted young girl.

Her father Eugene, owns a multitude of businesses and helms one of the most fearless newspapers in Nigeria where he and his editor print the news as they see it. An upstanding Catholic, he is held in high esteem for his wealth, power and religious beliefs. All of which dazzle the priests, his community and the folk of his village and blind them to the fanatical edge to his beliefs.

As the story progreses, we realise that the terror that Kambili, her brother Jaja and their mother face doesn't stem just from the perfection demanded by their father, but from the very real and frequent domestic abuse that they are all subjected to.

Brought up by Christian Missionaries, Eugene renounces his own father for holding onto his ancient beliefs, calling him a heathen and completely cutting him out of his life, only relenting to let his children visit him for a few minutes each year, after his father brings the matter to the village council.

Eugene's sister, Ifeoma is not as blinded by her brothers wealth and inspite of having a tough life as a professor and a widow with young children, she refuses to grovel for any monetary help from her brother. Instead, she tries to convince her sister-in-law to leave him for her own safety and that of the children.

There are 3 very interesting sets of beliefs and ways of life that are portrayed in Purple Hibiscus. The narrow minded, fanatical Christianity followed by Eugene who leads a privileged life, the traditionalist way of his father who does not even know where his next meal will come from and the middle path that Ifeoma works out for herself and her children while hovering on the brinks of poverty. While they are baptised Christians, they respect their father/grandfather's beliefs, while their mother is well educated and is a professor at University, salaries aren't paid on time, prices are sky rocketing and supplies are low.

One summer, realising that Kambili and Jaja know nothing of life outside their fathers strict, unforgiving, disciplinarian and fanatical way of life, Aunt Ifeoma invites just the chilkdren to stay with her family for awhile under the guise of undertaking a religious pilgrimage. And here begins their awakening. While Jaja quickly adapts and learns, Kambili's process is much slower and involves intense internal turmoil.

Adichie writes beautifully, her turn of phrase is almost poetic and immerses you straight into Nigeria. She is extremely descriptive and sensitive in her handling of the story. The reader will completely empathise with Kambili within a few pages , rejoicing at each little triumph and shedding a few tears at each set back. While the story could be set anywhere in the world and would hardly change in plot, the strength of Adichies writing is the knowledge of all things Nigerian that come through in each sentence.

The description of the food, the smells, the sights, the tastes, the customs all bring the reader closer to life in Nigeria.

A poignant read, this is not something you will read for the story line or the plot, but because the words will draw you in and take you on a magical carpet right into the heart of Nigeria.

Rating : 4.2/5



Marls said...

Hi Kim,
I love her books and am so glad to see you've read her. It's nice to get a view of different cultures and see the similarity and differences with your own upbringing. She is unlike many authors who love to showcase their knowledge of the English language (I often have to reach for my dictionary) and forget the emotion within writing.
- Marlene

Kim said...

Marls, I saw a lot of similarities too in the upbringing.

I don't read too many authors who have me reaching for a dictionary. It normally means they don't really have a tale to tell :)

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