Review published on December 25, 2015.
This moving story is told by Kambili, a stuttering, repressed 15 year old Nigerian girl who, along with her brother and mother, is physically and emotionally abused by her bullying, violent and fanatically religious father. Eventually, when she and her brother begin to spend time with their aunt and cousins, they are exposed to a different, more joyful and spontaneous way of living. Although at first fearful of this unaccustomed freedom, Kambili begins to find a strong voice and to experience how it feels to be loved unconditionally.
Woven into the story are all the conflicts within the family: the seemingly contradictory nature of her father’s personae, public (generous benefactor/champion of human rights) and private (violent bully); the repressive effects of violence and appeasement; the nature of love and forgiveness; the divisive nature of Christianity in a traditional native society and the struggle for independence. These issues are dealt with not only on a personal level, but are also reflected in the descriptions of a country in which tyranny and fear dominate people’s lives, and its citizens struggle to find a stable and moderate way of life. The author evokes a vivid picture of the struggles in modern day Nigeria: the disgrace of so much poverty and deprivation in the midst of so much wealth, and the tragedy of the exodus of so many talented people fleeing a repressive regime.
This is a compelling and powerful story which is written in a deceptively simple, calm and rather understated way; a style which serves to make the violence more menacing and the fearfulness more excruciating. It does offer glimmers of hope, although this is somewhat tempered by an awareness that a legacy of scars will remain.
On re-reading it for this feature I realise that one of the reasons this story has remained vivid for me since I first read it ten years ago, and why I think it deserves a place as one of the best books of the 21st century, is that, though set in Nigeria, its themes are universal, resonate as strongly now as they did when it was written, and will continue to do so in the decades to come. Adichie’s second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the 2007 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and has recently been awarded the “Best of the Best” award from the winning novels of the past ten years. However, I think that her first novel was equally remarkable and believe that it has the potential to become a classic alongside Chinua Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fourth Estate pbk Feb. 2005
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