Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

January 7, 2015 · 9:15 am

Purple Hibiscus

Readability:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Content:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
Overall:4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

I was first introduced to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie through her TED talk The Danger of a Single Story (one the best I’ve heard), and I’ve been eager to read her work.  So when I received Purple Hibiscus as a Christmas gift, it went straight to the top of my Project 2015 list.

Purple Hibiscus follows 15 year old Kambili and her brother Jaja as the rigid structure that their deeply religious Papa imposes on the family begins to crumble. When the children spend a week visiting Aunty Ifeoma and their cousins, they are exposed to a world where questions are encouraged and laughter comes easily. While Jaja seems to melt into this new life naturally, Kambili can’t seem to break free of her father’s will, even at a distance.  But when the children go back home, neither of them is able to return to the easy submission that marked their relationship with Papa in the past.  In turn, Papa’s discipline/abuse rises to new levels in an attempt to bring his children back under his control and save their souls. The plot is set against a backdrop of political turmoil after a coup overthrows the government of Nigeria.  While these political events may seems secondary at first, they turn out to be catalysts for many of the turning points in the story.

This is the kind of story that creeps up on you slowly. Many of the more dramatic scenes were over before I could fully comprehend what had happened and the characters felt very much like ordinary people. Most of the book takes place inside Kambili’s head: the way her words stick to her tongue when she wants to speak…what she wishes she had said…what she wishes she had done.  Despite this narrow point-of-view Purple Hibiscus manages to explore the interconnectedness of colonialism, tradition, religion, politics, class, and even domestic violence, in a fairly seamless manner.

Likes:

  • Adichie’s writing is incredibly beautiful, from the descriptions to the dialogue.  There is symbolism and poetry everywhere.
  • This story really resonated with me. I saw a lot parallels to my favorite book, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and to my own childhood.  (Growing up in Kenya, I was the “rich kid”, and felt like my shyness was often misconstrued as snobbery.)
  • Even though it moved slowly, each scene sparked a curiosity that kept me turning the pages.
  • I always love to finish a book and feel like I’ve learned something.

Dislikes:

  • My very first impression of the book was that it was a bit too slow.  This is undoubtedly due to my addiction to instant gratification, but I generally prefer books that have a slightly quicker pace.
  • I wish Adichie could have filled out Papa’s character a bit more.  It was hard to reconcile Kambili’s devotion to someone that I hated almost instantly.
  • I’ll admit that my wounded pride plays a part in listing this as an actual “con”, but I was incredibly annoyed when more than half way through the book, Kambili explained that white people incorrectly emphasize the second syllable of her name, rather than the first. I had to spend the remainder of the book trying to reprogram my pronunciation.  If you have yet to read the book, be forewarned. 😉

Favorite Quotes:

Ezi okwu?” Papa-Nnukwu looked up, his milky eyes on Father Amadi.  “Is that so? Our own sons now go to be missionaries in the white man’s land?”
“We go to the what man’s land and the black man’s land, sir,” Father Amadi said. “Any place that needs a priest.”
“It is good, my son.  But you must never lie to them.  Never teach them to disregard their fathers.” -Papa-Nnukwu and Father Amadi in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus

“God knows best,” I said.  “God works in mysterious ways.” And I thought how Papa would be proud that I had said that, how he would approve of my saying that.
Jaja laughed.  It sounded like a series of snorts strung together.  “Of course God does.  Look at what He did to his faithful servant Job, even to His own son.  But have you ever wondered why? Why did He have to murder his own son so we would be saved? Why didn’t He just go ahead and save us?” -Kabili and Jaja in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus

“There are people who think that we cannot rule ourselves because the few times we tried, we failed, as if all the others who rule themselves today got it right the first time. It is like telling a crawling baby who tries to walk, and then falls back on his buttocks, to stay there. As if the adults walking past him did not crawl, once.” -Aunty Ifeoma in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus

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3 Thoughts on “Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. This is exciting. I look forward to your perspicacious reports.

    I have to go see if I’ve heard that TED talk.

  2. She’s so good.

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