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.
This is one of those books that pulls you in and won’t let go. I had a hard time putting it down even for a couple of World Cup games.
Adichie tells a coming-of-age story of a young Nigerian girl, who lives in material luxury and spiritual poverty. Hardly surprising considering her father is one of those ultra-religious people—but I’m getting ahead of myself. It takes a visit to Kambili and Jaja’s Aunt Ifeoma for things to start to change.
Kambili’s father is a violent abuser. He’s a benefactor to the local church and his tribe, hospitals and strangers, but that doesn’t change that at home he regularly beats his wife and children. All the money in the world doesn’t change that he terrorises his family into submission, cries, and prays forgiveness for them—for their sins, not his.
Where Kambili treads silently on the spotless marble floors at home, at Aunt Ifeoma there’s laughter and friendly quarrels dusty floors. What does it matter the plates don’t match or that ants run on the table? Cousin Amaka gets to wear shorts and lipstick. And around her cousins, with their help, Kambili learns to speak up and laugh.
I wish I could say that for every horrible character there is one good one, but there isn’t. The casual cruelty overshadows even the most angelic influences and leaves the rest to walk a very narrow but muddy path somewhere between heaven and hell, the Western Church and tradition.
I’m not sure whether to assign the finer nuances of the writing to the author or the excellent translator, but the language is spellbinding. It grabs the reader at the moment of broken ornaments, takes them back to what was before, and changes as Kambili changes to face what comes after.
The only problem I have with the story is its ending. It’s one of those that ostensibly make sense and ties almost everything nicely together, but I was left wanting. It felt a tad too convenient for my taste.
Still, Purple Hibiscus is an excellent novel and I want to read more from this author.