It has been a busy busy week but through it all the Friday Book Review must come forth and today I will be taking a look at one of the first books to open new age authors up to a larger platform. ‘Purple Hibiscus’, Chimamanda Adichie’s first novel was a good pace setting novel for the greatness she was destined to achieve and hard as it may seem to believe quite a number of people have not read this book.
If you missed last week’s review of Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Americanah’ check it out here, and if you have suggestions on books you’d love to see reviewed drop a comment or send a mail to [email protected]
To be honest I read this book so long ago that I do not have a clear picture of what my first impression was. I do remember being fascinated by all the attention that Chimamanda and her first novel were getting. This was in 2003-2004 so it was very interesting to watch and see media rally round her.
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. [Chimamanda.Com]
Chimamanda has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors [that] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. The Nigerian author was born in the city of Enugu, she grew up the fifth of six children in an Igbo family in the university town of Nsukka. The 36-year-old author’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), received wide critical acclaim; it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004) and was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (2005).
Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, named after the flag of the short-lived nation of Biafra, is set before and during the Biafran War. It was awarded the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. Half of a Yellow Sun has been adapted into a film starring Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and BAFTA award winner Thandie Newton and is set for release in 2014. Her third book, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), is a collection of short stories.
Review – Spoiler Alert!!
‘Purple Hibiscus’ remains one of the books that opened me up to literature and made me really start digging into certain historical moments. Chimamnda has been able to achieve this effect book after book.
The life of Kambili is one that is very intriguing and easy enough to picture. The 15-year-old in a typical African home has no voice yet and cannot fully express him or herself and we see that clearly in the life of Kamibili. So many themes are touched in this books – subjects that are otherwise ignored or swept under the carpet. Here are a few themes that had me captivated throughout the book
Religion – This is a forefront theme and plays a very major role throughout the book. Religion made them, and perhaps religion broke them too because everything started to fall apart when Kambili’s older brother refused to partake of the routine Sunday Communion. We also get to see several phases of religion through different characters – Father Benedict is a white man from England who conducts his masses according to European custom, Father Amadi, on the other hand, is an African priest who blends Catholicism with Igbo traditions. The supposed heathen, Kambili’s grandfather is a traditionalist. He follows the rituals of his ancestors and believes in a pantheistic model of religion.
Nigerian Politics – It’s sad to see that things have been linear in Nigerian politics for a very long time. In the book, both Kambili and the nation are on the cusp of dramatic changes that change them forever. In Purple Hibiscus, there is a coup that culminates in military rule. Notably during this time there is extreme violence in their household just as there is violence also going on in the nation. In Enugu where they live, Kambili and Jaja are shielded and sheltered while in Nsukka with their Aunty Ifeoma they are smack in the middle and allowed to make adult decisions.
Domestic Violence – Sadly this is still an issue that is rampant in Nigeria and where it should be dying out it seems people are just getting quieter about their situation. That was the case in the house of Kambili’s family. As a fifteen year old she could not speak out, her older brother could not stand up to their father and their poor uneducated mother suffered in silence. On several occasions, Papa beats his wife and children. Each time, he is provoked by an action that he deems immoral. The book however offers us a just ending with Mama poisoning Papa all along. Even though it was murder and immoral, it seemed just and as a reader it was easy to forgive her.
Growth – Through no help from their father, Kambili and Jaja finally learn to grow up and stop standing at the edge of maturity and adulthood. This is as a result of the freedom and individuality that is thrust at them in their Aunty Ifeoma’s house, and even though Kambili has a slower time approaching this freedom that Jaja, when she gets their the reader finds it hard not to applaud her progress.
What I Like About The Book
‘Purple Hibiscus’ was able to capture a unique character as well as a nation that we could all see. It was extremely easy to read the book and get lost in it – the simplicity of the prose is commendable. And just as you start to feel frustrated at the unfairness of certain aspects of the book, justice is served. Jaja going to jail to cover up for his mother was a very painful bit but it really seemed like that was the only way the book could have ended.
Listen to a bit of the book in this audio