Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Purple Hibiscus

Posted by nliakos on March 8, 2012

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003)

I first heard of Chimamanda Adichie when I listened to her 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” In that presentation, she talked about how she grew up reading the literature of other cultures, e.g., British, but that she came to realize that the stories she needed to write should be about her own experiences as a Nigerian. That is what she does in this story of 15-year-old Kambili and her family: her father, Eugene, a fanatical Catholic and owner of a daily newspaper, who abuses his wife and children in the name of saving them from sin; her mother, Beatrice, who enables the abuse until she can put up with it no longer; her brother Jaja, who rebels openly against their father’s intolerant brand of Catholicism; her Aunty Ifeoma, Eugene’s sister, also Catholic but loving, liberal, and tolerant of diversity; Ifeoma’s three children, Kambili and Jaja’s cousins; and Papa-Nnukwu, Ifeoma and Eugene’s “traditionalist” (for Eugene, “heathen”) father. Kambili adores her father and does her utmost to please him, but he is not easily pleased; instead, he is enraged by the slightest infraction of the impossible rules he sets for his household. His children and his wife are required to be perfect at all times. He schedules Kambili’s and Jaja’s every waking moment, and a tiny slip brings a beating or worse. He is responsible for his wife’s miscarrying at least two babies. Still, Kambili makes excuses for him–even when he nearly kills her. Like so many abused women before her, she believes that she deserves the abuse.

Kambili and Jaja are given permission to visit Aunty Ifeoma and her children in a nearby university town–their first experience sleeping away from home. They experience life in a relaxed and loving home and slowly come to enjoy the freedoms they find there. Kambili even falls in love–with a young Nigerian priest, Father Amadi. Their priest at home in Enugu is almost as punitive as their father. A whole world begins to open up for her.

The story is told against the backdrop of a coup d’état which puts a brutal dictatorship in charge of the country, causing economic chaos. As much as we hate Eugene, we cannot help but admire his courage in speaking out against the dictatorship.

The book catches and holds the reader’s interest–I read it in about 3 days. An advanced English language learner could probably understand it well (especially one from an African country). The language is not difficult, but I frequently wished for a glossary of Igbo words (especially words for food), which would not have been difficult to provide and would have increased my appreciation of the book.

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One Response to “Purple Hibiscus”

  1. cgregory said

    I love that TED talk! I often use it with my students to generate discussion. What a beautiful woman.

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