Purple Hibiscus – Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie has written three novels; I read the third first, the second second and finally her debut recently. Purple Hibiscus is again a story of post-colonial Nigeria. Set in the backdrop of a military coup and a new dictator rising to power, we follow the fortunes of Kambili and her family. Kambili’s father, Eugene, is the owner of numerous factories and an outspoken newspaper, whilst also being the main benefactor for the local Catholic church. Kambili and her brother, Jaja, are raised in a strict religious household, being punished for not respecting the church or achieving top marks in their school work. We see the story of the family through Kambili’s eyes as her father violently and psychologically exerts his power over the family. This novel is essentially about them growing up and realising they can stand up to their father. Adichie uses this novel to set out the themes that she later explores in her other novels; the opportunities held by leaving for America, social upheaval and political instability.

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The two children are sent to spend time with their Aunty Ifeoma, Eugene’s sister, and her children. This is a key part of their life; they come into contact with the traditional beliefs of their heritage, and learn skills that ordinarily are done by their family’s staff. Aunty Ifeoma is a university lecturer who is liberal, and seen by the new regime as dissident. As they spend more time with their aunt, cousins and a priest named, Father Amadi, the two children’s parents are continuing to drift further apart. Father Amadi awakens Kambili’s sexuality. Jaja is also growing into a man with his own opinions and starts to rail against his father, especially his strict control over the family.

Eventually their mother, Beatrice, frustrated with Eugene’s treatment of her, poisons him. Jaja takes the blame for this. The last section of the novel is set a few years later, with Jaja due to be released from prison. Kambili has grown into a confident 18 year old, and Aunty Ifeoma has moved with her family to America. In this last section Adichie tackles the subjects of bribery and corruption in Nigeria; Kambili and Beatrice have been able to secure Jaja an early release from prison.

For a debut novel, this clearly outlines the themes that Adichie later explores in Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah. For any fan of powerful writing Adichie is a brilliant author, she has truly set a standard for African writing in the 21st century. The imagery that Adichie uses in her writing can evoke so much emotion, and can make me imagine Nigeria quite clearly. I would love to visit Nigeria to see this country and be able to put more images to the scenes that she has described so well.

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