Home > contemporary, Genre > Book Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian Independence Day Reading/Reviewing Project)

Book Review: Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigerian Independence Day Reading/Reviewing Project)

Cover of the book Purple HibiscusSummary:
Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a wealthy businessman and newspaperman focused on telling the truth of the upheaval in Nigeria, but even more focused on his fanatical version of Catholicism.  Kambili, her brother Jaja, and their mother all live on edge, walking on eggshells, never knowing when he might snap.  In contrast, Eugene’s sister, Kambili’s Aunty Ifeoma, is a university professor and a widow, cheerfully raising her children to be independent.  One winter vacation Aunty Ifeoma convinces Eugene to allow Kambili and Jaja to visit.  A visit that will change their worlds forever.

You all know by now that I’m good friends with Amy, so when she asked me to participate in her one-shot project, I couldn’t say no.  Although, I was completely at a loss as to what to read.  I’ve never read a Nigerian book before.  So I asked Amy to help me figure out a book to get my hands on, and she recommended this title to me.

Adichie instantly swept me into a world that is starkly different from, yet surprisingly similar to, my own.  The excessive religion and fear of god was something I was raised with myself, so I found myself instantly connecting to Kambili.  Indeed, it’s nearly impossible not to connect to her.  She is intelligent yet vulnerable.  Strong yet terrified.  Wise yet naive.  She is an ideal main character, because she is so essentially human yet impossible not to root for.

Kambili’s father is an abuser; there is zero doubt about that, yet the perspective of the abused is so eloquently depicted by Adichie.  Kambili truly loves her father.  She is afraid of him and hurt by him, yet she knows there are good things too.  She wants nothing more than to please him.  She lives for his kind words.  Indeed, even the reader sees that there are good aspects to Eugene in spite of the fact that he’s a horrible abuser.  He routinely donates money to the needy in Nigeria, for instance.  This is what makes it so powerful and realistic.  Abusers aren’t monsters from a fairy tale.  They are deeply flawed people who hurt those closest to them.

In contrast to Eugene is Aunty Ifeoma.  Aunty Ifeoma is the kind of woman that I believe most modern, strong, educated women want to be.  She tries so damn hard to help her kids be strong, to be a good mom, to help save her sister-in-law and niece and nephew from an abusive situation.  She tries hard at everything, yet sometimes the civil unrest at the university and the constant struggle to feed her family gets to her, and she snaps a bit.  Aunty Ifeoma is the perfect comparison to Eugene.  She sometimes snaps at her kids a bit when she’s tired or frustrated from the extreme situations going on around her Nigeria, but she never harms them.  Since stress is one of the excuses many abusers use, it is excellent to see this comparison within the story.

Adichie eloquently describes Nigeria as well.  I’ve never been to any part of Africa, but I felt myself swept into the hot, dry air.  I could almost smell the food they ate and the cashews and oranges on the ground outside.  Although Adichie shows the political unrest and civil strife, she also clearly displays the beauty of Nigeria, which is something I’ve never encountered before.

With all this beauty and realism, then, I must say I was a bit thrown by the ending.  It almost felt as if it was from a different story.  Whereas most of the book was reserved and eloquent in its simple depictions, the ending felt larger than life.  I think I was hoping for something more from the ending.  Some type of realistic understanding of a tough situation instead of a….deus ex machina style ending.

That said, I am incredibly glad I read this book.  I’m glad Amy helped me broaden my horizons to reading from a style of lit outside of my normal comfort zone.  This book is incredibly accessible, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of contemporary, literary stories.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

Buy It (See all Literary Books)

  1. October 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    Excellent and spot on. I agree completely with your assessment about the ending. It did feel like a different book in the end. Regardless, it is such a wonderful book to read. I do hope you continue to read other African books.

    • October 5, 2011 at 6:51 pm

      I’m glad you agree with me about the ending. I was wondering if it was just me building up unrealistic expectations based on the rest of the book!
      I definitely think you and Amy have inspired me to pursue reading more African lit. (Um, in addition to the black American lit and Asian lit that I already have passions for….when can I find time to read all the things again?) Anyway, any recommendations you have for me would be wonderful and much appreciated. 🙂

  2. October 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Oh my. I can’t remember this ending! All of the rest of what you’ve said seems to bring the book back to me freshly (I read it shortly after it was published, several years ago),and I remember enjoying it and going on to read her wonderful second novel…but nothing about the ending. Guess it’s time for a re-read.

    • October 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      Hah! I’d tell you what happens, but then you wouldn’t get your re-read. 🙂

  3. jhan
    January 23, 2014 at 11:46 am

    The book opened a passage for mê in reading other books:-) well would want to know what happened to kambili and father Amadi:-) did she forgot him total or she blushes after reading his letters.

    • January 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      I’m glad the book led you to read more!

  4. Sylvester isaac
    January 28, 2014 at 5:56 am

    This book is one of Nigerian best book ever written!!!…it captured the life of a teenage girl from a rich background…the life of a priest….and many others…I am a Nigerian,from the eastern side…and i can stand firm and say tha Ngozi Chimamanda Adiche is a gifted writer.
    Papa-Nukwu reminds me of my grand father.i honestly believe the ending was as perfect as it could be…

    • January 30, 2014 at 11:30 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, Sylvester!

  1. October 7, 2011 at 7:01 am
  2. October 7, 2011 at 9:25 am
  3. February 18, 2013 at 4:35 pm
  4. February 20, 2013 at 5:28 pm
  5. June 16, 2020 at 9:30 am

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