Book review: Purple Hibiscus

What are the odds of reading another African girl who debuted with a touching story, this one from Nigeria, right after Homegoing and From Scratch? I was handed this book by a different neighbor of mine.

I had not heard of Chimamanda but my older daughter jumped up when she saw the book in my hand, coz she’d read about the author in the Good night stories for rebel girls biographies collection.

To be honest, there are parts of the book I could understand and some that I couldn’t, as they were a bit deep into religion and I couldn’t understand those well enough. The story is from the eyes of a young teenaged girl, brought up in a family that is well off but with a religious fanatic , an oppressive father. He runs a newspaper and factories and does a lot of charitable work, but runs a military like discipline at home, keeping a tight schedule of religion and education for the children, taking to lashing, beating and even more brutal ways of keeping them under control and in fear. The story unfolds slowly, each character takes its time to shape up. The protagonist lives a life of fear but worships her father, believing that everything he does is right. That is, until she sees a different world. Life changes for Kambili and her brother when they start spending time with their aunt (father’s sister) and cousins, to see a world where laughter and free speech are permitted, a world where a different form of faith is followed, yet God is not punishing them, a world where there are less privileges economically, but love and openness are abound. 

Kambili is always tongue tied, a bright and observant girl but fearful of speaking up, expressing her views, at times even thinking openly. She struggles to blend in the way her older brother does, but eventually wins over her cousins with her sincerity. Kambili also starts experiencing an attraction to the opposite sex, her first encounter with a young aged male, in the form of Father Amadi, who frequents their aunts home. He pays attention to her, encourages and motivates her and wants her to believe in herself and her abilities.

The story mostly then revolves between the two contrasting homes that the children start seeing, which makes them start to question and even act against their father’s wishes, unimaginable had they not experienced anything different. The acts of violence increase, once putting Kambili in danger of her life, another time her mother’s. The end is sad and shocking, but eventually Kambili and her brother and mother have their freedom.

A lot of insights into the daily life of the average Nigerian are found: from what they eat, wear, say, think and aspire to what grows in the backyards, bushes and hills. The political and socio economic scenario is at the backdrop, and the entire story is told from 15 year old Kambili’s viewpoint. 

Do not miss this, to learn about the different worlds we all occupy.