Friday, December 19, 2008

"Purple Hibiscus" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Year of publication: 2003
Genre: novel
Setting and time: Nigeria, just after a military coup (as Junot Diaz would put it, I skipped my mandatory three seconds of Nigerian history back at school)
Themes: religious extremism, childhood, family life, education, political commitment, everyday life in Nigeria

Longlisted for the Booker Prize, Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and Winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Africa

About the author: see this post

Plot: Fifteen-year-old Kambili's world is circumscribed by the high walls of her family compound and the frangipani trees she can see from her bedroom window. Her wealthy Catholic father, although generous and well-respected in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home. Her life is lived under his shadow and regulated by schedules: prayer, sleep, study, and more prayer. When Kambili is sent to her aunt’s house in Nsukka she discovers love and a life -- dangerous and heathen -- beyond the confines of her father's authority.

Some thoughts: A wonderful book! There are many novels that try to analyse the problem of religious extremism in the Muslim world, but this is the first time that I read something about Catholic extremism. It’s quite scary, actually. I never thought that people like Kambili’s father (called Papa or Eugene in the novel) could exist. It is disturbing how he can be despotic and violent at home while he is generous and brave to the outer world. At home he uses violence and fear to punish his family for what he sees as sins (like visiting his “heathen” father or coming second-best in the math class), but at the same time he is a benefactor, paying for the educations of dozens of children and giving money to charity. Furthermore, he is one of the few people who has the courage to speak up about the political situation of the country: he publishes pamphlets against the military regime. Obviously, his commitment will have disastrous consequences on his life and on that of his family.
The whole idea of writing a novel from the point of few of a fifteen-year-old girl is quite good: Adichie manages to depict the reality surrounding Kambili in a simple way. For example, there are no detailed explanations of the political situation of Nigeria. In fact, I could not even understand in which years the novel is set (1980s-90s, maybe?). While for other novels this could be considered a flaw, in this case it is quite appropriate, because the political and socio-economical deterioration of Nigeria is not the main topic of the novel, but it serves as a purpose to highlight Eugene’s contradictions.
One thing I really loved about this novel is the use of Igbo in the dialogues (so now I can say “kedu”!) and the portrayal of everyday life in a Nigerian compound. However, it was quite impossible to live up to Half of a Yellow Sun, the other novel by Adichie (my review here). I didn’t find in this book a character that I loved as much as I loved Ugwu, the houseboy in Half of a Yellow Sun, or expressions that stayed in my mind for a long time such as Odenigbo’s “you are such an ignoramus!”.
In conclusion, I love this writer and I really look forward to reading another of her wonderful novels.


  1. One of the best book I've ever read!

  2. Ciao Stefania,
    Tantissimi auguri di buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!!!

  3. Buon Natale e speriamo in un decente 2009.

  4. I could not agree more... I'm so glad you enjoyed it. She needs to write more quickly. ;-)

  5. Look forward to my thoughts on this book in September. One of the books I would purchase in that month. I love your review. It's interesting.