I was first introduced to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the King Fahad International Airport in Jeddah, and the second time a few days later in an email from my professor. Over the course of the next few weeks, at various stalls and bookstores, I bought all of Adichie’s works of fiction.
Chimamanda Adichie’s debut novel Purple Hibiscus is the coming of age story of a young girl Kambili who is abused and controlled by her father to the extent that the laughter in her Aunt’s home feels strange to her. Her father, a religious hypocrite within the walls of his home, is a respected and loved man in the society due to his charitable nature. The basic context of the story is the turn that takes place in Kambili’s life due to political changes and the life changing results of this change. Kambili and her brother Jaja have to live with their Aunt and her children in Nsukka, a small University town, and get introduced to a life that is the opposite of their luxurious setting back home. In my opinion, it is the loving and independent nature of the new lifestyle that makes it easier for them to adjust without complaining since those two things are exactly what lacks at home. There is love in their house but not compassion, and that love is the forced kind, the kind that you have to learn.
What I loved about the book was how easy it was to read despite being of a foreign culture, and although I have read many works by Chinua Achebe, I wasn’t completely exposed to the way of life and ethos of Nigeria. Adichie managed to familiarize me with the cultural nuances without making me feel like I was reading something unlike what I already knew or had experienced. I felt I was in the story with the characters, sharing the space of their homes and their lives – something that all book lovers appreciate.
I always enjoy the use of code switching by writers, especially when the book represents a culture and language I do not understand or know very well. It helps me learn words of a foreign language and also to understand the culture through the sociolinguistic features. Code switching, for those who don’t know, is the rapid switch between two or more languages. In the case of Purple Hibiscus the languages are Standard English, Pidgin English and Igbo. Language in the novel represents the various facets of life, both public and private and how situations or certain emotions can trigger the use of one language over the other. For those who intend to read this book, I recommend you pay attention to Eugene’s character and his language usage.
In post-colonial literature, a common theme is the sense of superiority that comes from being “modern” and abandoning the “old ways”. Through Eugene’s character I found the portrayal of the conflict between traditionalism and modernity. In pursuit of modernity, Eugene deprives his children of the wisdom, lessons and bond that their grandfather could have provided. The contrast is intermingled with the religious shift that took place in African societies due to the introduction of Christianity at the time of colonization.
The novel made me think about religion and how a particular race or culture can be perceived as being the superior subjects even though God is for everyone. Another aspect of religion that was beautifully portrayed is how even though a person might consider himself a follower of the “right” religion, he/she might not get the satisfaction and peace that the follower of a religion they condemn gets through his own practice. This goes to show that the practicalities of a religion must always be aided with sincerity, something Eugene lacks.
What really surprised me, as a reader and a writer, is the artful direction with which Adichie sculpted her characters. It was not possible to point at a seemingly evil character and claim that they were completely evil, and vice versa. This reinforced my belief that it is wrong to demonize people and that there is also a reason behind what a person does or says, even if that reason is not enough to justify the act.
I’m usually a bit apprehensive when it comes to reading books that portray physical abuse, especially on children, however Adichie’s storytelling ability didn’t make me want to hide in the covers and cry. Due to the nature of abuse and the abundant foreshadowing the story was a bit predictable yet crafted very well. I have to admit that I was a bit confused and disappointed about the story’s conclusion. I think such an ending requires discussion and speculation to rest our hearts. Other things that I would love to discuss are the symbols and the contrasts in the book and what they represent. The characters who really intrigued me are Jaja, Father Amadi and Eugene Achike. I think I’d love to understand them better so I can have my questions answered.
Through reading Purple Hibiscus I’ve realized (as many times before) that women must always speak up for themselves and their children, that abusive acts always have repercussions which come to harm the abuser and the abused, and that religious oppression only works to a certain extent before people begin to question the very morals and principles that the oppression claims to be built upon.
I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in culture and coming of age stories. Purple Hibiscus harbors many, many future possibilities for the characters. After I finished reading I spent a while wondering what would happen next in their lives.
It would be great if younger readers approach this story, especially since not enough people read works by foreign writers. I am glad I have other works of Chimamanda Adichie to keep me company in the weeks to come.