Purple Hibiscus By Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie




GoodReads Book Blurb:

"Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.

When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways.

This is a book about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new—the grey spaces in which truths are revealed and true living is begun. "




Somewhere towards the middle of the book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 16-year old Kambili realizes that laughter, perhaps, is not as big a sin as she grew up believing. Singing your prayers instead of whispering them is not that blasphemous. Wearing trousers, the clothing that’s essentially for men, isn’t that sacrilegious. And not securing the first position in her class didn’t really mean she was not fulfilling God’s purpose.


But Kambili still believed, and wanted to believe, that whatever Papa said was right, because it was him saying it. Papa was different. Papa commanded respect. Even when he hit her and her older brother, Jaja, with a stick for not obeying the God, or poured boiling water on their feet to punish them for ‘the sin of omission of the truth’. Also when he swung his belt at Mama, Jaja and her for making her ‘desecrate the Eucharistic fast’ by eating corn flakes just ten minutes before the Mass to take medicine for stomach cramps. Even when he slapped and kicked her to ward off the devil, that resulted in broken ribs and a week in the hospital.


Kambili was desperate for Papa’s attention. When someone said something on the dining table that pleased him and he looked at the person smiling, she thought to herself- “I wish I had said that.” Every moment of her living thoughts was how to make Papa proud- even if that meant not singing along with her cousins during a drive, not bowing to an elder who was a non Catholic, or not looking at her grandfather even in death although she yearned to touch his sagging skin once.

“Why do you walk into sin?’ “Why do you like sin?”- his face crumpled and eyes wet.
“Ave Maria. I am spotless now, we are all spotless. If God calls us right now, we are going straight to Heaven. Straight to Heaven. We will not require the cleansing of Purgatory.”

When after the Confession and observing penance he said the above, even though he committed violence in the name of religion just hours ago, showed how he truly believed whatever he was doing was right.

She couldn’t get close to the grandfather, Papa-Nnukwu, because her father said it was a grave sin to live and eat with a heathen- a non catholic who spent time idol-worshipping gods of wood and stone. It was evil. Eating with him would be desecrating The Christian Tongue, as Papa said. Even after her grandfather had died, all Papa cared about was not converting him to a Christian before his final moments, as then he would have been saved from the everlasting torment of hellfire.


“Laughter floated over my head. Words spurted from everyone, often not seeking and not getting any response. We always spoke with a purpose back home, especially at the table, but my cousins seemed to simply speak and speak and speak.”- Kambili

Change happened when Kambili and Jaja visited their aunt’s place for the first time during the Christmas holidays and lived with their cousins. They watched TV there- one of the firsts, as Papa never penciled in TV time on their schedules. She wore trousers and shorts from Amara, as she didn’t own any because Papa said it was sinful for a woman to wear trousers. She tried applying lipstick. It wasn’t unreligious- against ‘the glory of God’. She learnt how to peel yams, cook, clean and wash plates. They learnt to save fuel and water. They learnt the difference between pagan and a traditionalist, and that non-Catholics need not be treated with censure all the time.


“No! I told him, with a tight blink. It was not right. You did not break into a song in the middle of rosary. I did not join in the singing, and neither did Jaja.”

Kambili was introverted. She would listen to every word spoken, follow every cackle of laughter and line of banter, but wouldn’t speak much. She was always inside her head. Slowly as the days passed she came to like laughter and the sound of her voice when she laughed. She learnt to speak without lowering her voice. She replied back whenever criticized without reason. Words didn’t get caught up somewhere in her throat. And she sang.


I felt so oppressed while reading this book. A girl adoring her father who was so wrong in all the ideologies he propagated. She was such an innocent girl wanting to make her father proud. From the very start of the book, something felt terribly wrong, out of place. She was so naïve, believing every word her Papa uttered. What can we expect- her entire life was centered around him, until she lives with her Aunty and cousins.

This book is relevant in so many ways, especially in today’s world where violence in the name of religion is a commonplace thing. Narrated through a teenager’s point of view, it finds place in the readers psyche and haunts.

Complex characters. Every sentence build the plot.

“I looked up to seek out Jaja’s face, to see if he, too, was bewildered that Aunty Ifeoma and her family prayed for, of all things, laughter.”

I loved the endearing brother sister relationship where there wasn’t much dialogue. They used the language of the eyes instead. They kept each other’s secret. Jaja and Kambili went together- like corn and ube, rice and stew, yam and oil. Jaja was the first to rebel against his Papa. He would come to the rescue of his sister and mother without batting the eyelid.


Amaka, Kambili’s cousin, painted. She oiled grandfather’s hair with Vaseline, smoothed talcum powder on his face and chest, and scrubbed his foot with pumice stone. She was rude and mean to Kambili at first as she had her defenses up, and she presumed things about her rich cousin and their affluent ways of life.

I wanted to say, “I will miss you” but instead I said, “I will write you.” “I will write you first,” he said.

Father Amadi had a great role to play in the changes that the brother sister duo welcomed in their lives. He shaped their thought process from the regressive clutches of their father to more independent views as individuals. When he asks Kambili why she considers sleeping in the same room as her grandfather who’s a heathen, a sin, she has no answer for it. She had never thought a why. He makes playful efforts to make her socialize more, play sports, enjoy her time- “try and catch me, show me you love Jesus.”

“You are almost sixteen, Kambili. You are beautiful. You will find more love than you will need in a life-time,” he said. And I did not know whether to laugh or cry. He was wrong. He was so wrong.

Kambili brought back Papa Nwukku’s painting. Jaja brought back stems of purple hibiscus from their aunt's house. This was the beginning of rebellion.

The day they returned home from their second visit to their aunt- the purple hibiscuses were about to bloom. And the next day, Palm Sunday, Jaja did not go to communion, the day things started to fall apart. Rebellion started at home.

When aunt and family applied for visa to go to US for better job opportunities, away from a life amidst riots, Father Amadi was also shifting to another missionary church in Germany. Hopes for a new life was no more there for the brother and sister. Things would again go back to the way they were in the beginning. But fate had other plans. 

“I wanted to tell Mama that it did feel different to be back, that our living room had too much empty space, too much wasted marble floor that gleamed from Sisi’s polishing and housed nothing. Our ceilings were too high. Our furniture was lifeless: the glass tables did not shed twisted skin in the harmattan, the leather sofa’s greeting was a clammy coldness, the Persian rugs were too lush to have any feeling."


Source: Vagabomb.com

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