Purple Hibiscus is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel. It might be due to the fact that I’ve read her full novels in reverse order of publications that I feel like Purple Hibiscus doesn’t match up to Half of A Yellow Sun or Americanah, but it’s definitely not a poor effort.
Purple Hibiscus is what happens when you push good-natured people to their limits. Kambili, the story’s fifteen-year-old protagonist, is doing the best she can in the messed up environment she lives in. Stuck in a compound home and an equally tight-lipped family, Kambili and her brother Jaja dream of escape that is not already penned into their tightly pre-worked schedules provided by their father. A modest and generous “religious” man to the public, Kambili’s father does not keep up his outer persona at home. It is not below him to berate his children, abuse his wife, and ostracize his family. Under the guise of wealthy and prominent in the congregation, the few works he conjures up are just fanatical gestures proving his faith dead.
While the end of Purple Hibiscus might be a stretch if you’ve never seen Snapped, Mos Def wasn’t kidding when he pointed out “the million other straws underneath” that final one were what broke the camel’s back. Violence in the home ruins everyone, and there’s no way to get away from it. If you read Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon (which you definitely should if you haven’t), you definitely will notice the pattern right away. Growing up in a West Indian home myself, there was definitely a good few lashes handed out, but nothing compared to what Kambili goes through. While I had a hard time convincing one professor for a childhood psychology course that I was completely normal after ground up and getting a few licks and now have something I can look back on and laugh over with fellow immigrant kids, there is definitely that point of pushing it too far. Unfortunately, reversing that is either extremely difficult or never happens at all.
When Kambili and Jaja are first brought into a more ideal living environment with their aunt, they do not fit in automatically. While Jaja warms up quickly, as by this time he’s already on the “rebellious” path, Kambili has a hard time following suit. In the small windows she has the opportunity to tell anyone what’s going on at home, she freezes up. As angry as I want to be with Kambili for not speaking up, I can neither begin to put myself in her shoes nor count the time I kept quiet when I should have said something.
Adichie conveys her message quickly and affirms it with ease throughout the novel. She captures Kambili’s soft demeanor extremely well and looking back on Jaja’s character, it’s not surprising that the novel ends the way it does. If any character surprised me, it would definitely be that of the children’s mother. For the most part she’s quiet and constantly in the background, but once she finally acts, she goes off. I definitely enjoyed Purple Hibiscus, but it wasn’t a favourite. Where the story lacked, the lyricism picked up the slack and vice versa. If anything I would have loved to read a chapter about Kambili’s life maybe five or ten years after as an epilogue.
Labels: 50 books in 52 weeks, chimamanda ngozi adichie, purple hibiscus, woc writers, women writers reading group