Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus is the first novel of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Orange Prize for Fiction-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.  It’s the story of Kambili, a fifteen year old girl growing up in a prosperous Nigerian household, but while her classmates label her a snob for not talking to them, in reality she is painfully shy and in constant terror of her father.  Her father insists on the best grades and extreme religious devotion, and will accept no substitute.

She and her brother Jaja are only able to escape from his violent and repressive grasp when circumstances force them to stay with their aunt and cousins.  Adjusting to this noisy and expressive household is difficult at first but both Kambili and Jaja soon blossom and grow under this new guidance.  All too soon, however, they must return home to their old lives…

I beg you to read this book.  It’s such a subtle yet moving account of a child brainwashed by fear, then growing into an adult and developing her own thoughts.  In a way I found this a troubling novel to read because I felt such keen sympathy for Kambili and her brother and felt such frustration and anger towards their father, who is skilfully drawn as a flawed, not monstrous, figure.  However, there was never a point where I didn’t want to carry on to the end, and the reward for exploring the dark depths of this unhappy family was great.  I think that if a book can really make you feel like that, it’s got to be doing something right.  Isn’t that why we read in the first place?

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