So, here it is; one summer, three months and a challenge created by Cathy (@cathy746books) at 746books.com to make a dent in the toppling TBR stack. I have opted for the 10 books challenge due to time constraints! Thank you Cathy for hosting!
My fifth book in this summer’s challenge is actually a re-read as it was chosen by one of my book groups as our July title. Purple Hibiscus was the debut novel of acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and is a deeply moving, coming-of-age story, recounted through the voice of fifteen-year-old Kambili.
Kambili and her older brother Jaja, live in a luxurious house in the Nigerian town of Enugu. Their father Eugene is powerful and wealthy, the owner of factories and a newspaper and on first appearances their lifestyle: private school, chauffeur, large house filled with modern conveniences, abundant food and servants would appear to be enviable. However, the tone of tension in Kambili’s voice, her constant watchfulness and desire to say the right thing to make her father proud, betray the falsehood of this assumption.
Eugene controls every aspect of his family’s existence, the children’s lives are scheduled by the minute, they are expected to come top of the class without excuses, and when they anger him through a wrong look or word he punishes them with horrific domestic abuse. His wife is also subjected to the most extreme violence whenever she does not meet his standards of perfection. Eugene himself is controlled by his adherence to the Catholic faith in which he was educated as a schoolboy from the missionary school he attended. He credits his western education and faith in God with his success and now entirely rejects the beliefs of his ancestors, to the extent that he will not visit his own father or allow his children to visit him due to his perception of his “heathen” ways. When the family return to their compound in the ancestral village for Christmas, a time when Eugene provides food and money for the entire village, he callously sends his driver to deliver a small sum of money to his frail father and the children are allowed only a few minutes in the company of their grandfather.
Into this fearful and silent home comes a catalyst for change in the form of Eugene’s widowed sister, Aunty Ifeoma and her three loud and opinionated children; Amaka, Obiora and Chima. Auntie Ifeoma is a strong and educated woman, a lecturer at the University in Nsukka, who encourages her children to think for themselves, debate current affairs and who would rather live in relative poverty than bow to her brother’s demands. The contrast in her joyful practise of Catholicism mixed with Igbo hymns and traditions is in stark contrast to her brother’s dogmatism and rule through fear. You realise just how alien this is to Kambili when she is shocked by the sound of her cousins’ laughter, so absent from her own experience:
“She laughed so easily, so often. They all did, even little Chima.”
As the children come to realise that there is another way to live and a military coup threatens Eugene’s power base, events are set in place which are shocking and revolutionary for all protagonists.
I can only describe Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writing as pellucid. Without the need for long paragraphs of descriptive prose she takes you to the heart of the luxurious, walled compound in which Kambili’s family are imprisoned, the ancestral village where they discover their roots and the cramped apartment on the university compound where they discover the ability to live free of restraints like the purple hibiscus in Auntie Ifeoma’s garden. The character’s are all fully realised and even Eugene is not portrayed as a one-dimensional villain. There are passages which are absolutely harrowing but overall I found the book to be utterly compelling both times that I have read it, and I have subsequently read all of this author’s later novels.