Title: PURPLE HIBISCUS
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Algonquin Books; Kachifo limited.
Publication date: October 2003
Nō of pages: 310
Reviewer: Favour Ozoemena
PURPLE Hibiscus is a breathtaking debut by Adichie replete with beauty and horror. An exceptional story of an unhappy family and also of post-colonial Nigeria. The events took place in Igbo land Eastern Nigeria, and the narrator fifteen year old Kambili whose voice often seems smarter than the adults is the docile only daughter of Eugene.
Kambili weaves the plot intricately wrapping detail upon detail of domestic life. One could almost see the purple bougainvillea and the frangipani trees she aptly described with its sickly-sweet scent. Her mastery of description almost brought to life the onugbu soup with its thick chunks of boiled beef and dried fish. Though she paints quite an alluring picture at the beginning, her description of the compound walls and how she couldn’t even see the cars driving by the street denotes some sort of dissatisfaction. Kambili lives with her brother and parents in Enugu.
There is an age old tradition in literature of hostile and iron-fisted fathers.Kambili’s father has two sides at least. Eugene is an intolerant Roman Catholic patriarch and is considerably seen as the villain in the story. Eugene is a wealthy man, a well respected member of the community and despite the existing dangers speaks boldly against injustice in his newspaper. Eugene-fondly called Papa by his children Kambili and Jaja-is a stickler for order as there are schedules for every single activity to be carried out in the house as well as in their lives too. He is relentlessly religious, devoted to Catholicism, God and purity that it borders on fanaticism. His idea of religion leaves him so stuck up, uptight and self righteous. He beats his children and wife everytime they sin or fail to live up to his expectations. He often regales his children with tales of how hard he had worked so he expects nothing short of perfection from them. Eugene does rush them to the hospital every time he punishes them showing that he does care for his family. His wrath is avoided like a plague by everyone. His wife, Beatrice seems cowered by the abuse she has received and witnessed.
Purple Hibiscus places the family within the larger picture of Nigeria as it was slowly recovering from colonialism. As several coups threaten to tear the country apart, the family’s ice cold order is threatened. Kambili and Jaja are almost robot-like in their interactions with other people, that was until they went to Nsukka. Visiting their aunt and her three children gives then the chance to see how a less formal family functions. Although they were away from home it wasn’t completely possible to shake Papa’s shadow off their shoulders. Every time the phone rings Kambili quakes in fear. The book is not all pain and suffering. Kambili’s cousin Amaka is a young feminist in her own right who voices certain issues qualified as unmentionables in the society. There are scenes of laughter and warmth. Laughter that brings relief from suffering. Kambili who is painfully shy even around her family members seems to find her voice after that trip. Communication problems riddle the novel as a lot of things are left unsaid. Which brings the “Is silence the best” question to mind. This is not a novel for the faint-hearted.
Overall, Purple Hibiscus is a compelling tale told with a confident voice. Even though I could not help but wince when Eugene abused his family the book kept me hooked till the end.