Book Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian Independence Day Reading/Reviewing Project)
Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a wealthy businessman and newspaperman focused on telling the truth of the upheaval in Nigeria, but even more focused on his fanatical version of Catholicism. Kambili, her brother Jaja, and their mother all live on edge, walking on eggshells, never knowing when he might snap. In contrast, Eugene’s sister, Kambili’s Aunty Ifeoma, is a university professor and a widow, cheerfully raising her children to be independent. One winter vacation Aunty Ifeoma convinces Eugene to allow Kambili and Jaja to visit. A visit that will change their worlds forever.
You all know by now that I’m good friends with Amy, so when she asked me to participate in her one-shot project, I couldn’t say no. Although, I was completely at a loss as to what to read. I’ve never read a Nigerian book before. So I asked Amy to help me figure out a book to get my hands on, and she recommended this title to me.
Adichie instantly swept me into a world that is starkly different from, yet surprisingly similar to, my own. The excessive religion and fear of god was something I was raised with myself, so I found myself instantly connecting to Kambili. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible not to connect to her. She is intelligent yet vulnerable. Strong yet terrified. Wise yet naive. She is an ideal main character, because she is so essentially human yet impossible not to root for.
Kambili’s father is an abuser; there is zero doubt about that, yet the perspective of the abused is so eloquently depicted by Adichie. Kambili truly loves her father. She is afraid of him and hurt by him, yet she knows there are good things too. She wants nothing more than to please him. She lives for his kind words. Indeed, even the reader sees that there are good aspects to Eugene in spite of the fact that he’s a horrible abuser. He routinely donates money to the needy in Nigeria, for instance. This is what makes it so powerful and realistic. Abusers aren’t monsters from a fairy tale. They are deeply flawed people who hurt those closest to them.
In contrast to Eugene is Aunty Ifeoma. Aunty Ifeoma is the kind of woman that I believe most modern, strong, educated women want to be. She tries so damn hard to help her kids be strong, to be a good mom, to help save her sister-in-law and niece and nephew from an abusive situation. She tries hard at everything, yet sometimes the civil unrest at the university and the constant struggle to feed her family gets to her, and she snaps a bit. Aunty Ifeoma is the perfect comparison to Eugene. She sometimes snaps at her kids a bit when she’s tired or frustrated from the extreme situations going on around her Nigeria, but she never harms them. Since stress is one of the excuses many abusers use, it is excellent to see this comparison within the story.
Adichie eloquently describes Nigeria as well. I’ve never been to any part of Africa, but I felt myself swept into the hot, dry air. I could almost smell the food they ate and the cashews and oranges on the ground outside. Although Adichie shows the political unrest and civil strife, she also clearly displays the beauty of Nigeria, which is something I’ve never encountered before.
With all this beauty and realism, then, I must say I was a bit thrown by the ending. It almost felt as if it was from a different story. Whereas most of the book was reserved and eloquent in its simple depictions, the ending felt larger than life. I think I was hoping for something more from the ending. Some type of realistic understanding of a tough situation instead of a….deus ex machina style ending.
That said, I am incredibly glad I read this book. I’m glad Amy helped me broaden my horizons to reading from a style of lit outside of my normal comfort zone. This book is incredibly accessible, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of contemporary, literary stories.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Public Library