“She had not learned the art of silent crying. She had not needed to.”
I finally got around to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2003 debut Purple Hibiscus (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). While Americanah gave me White Teeth vibes, this reminded me more of The God of Small Things with hints of The Poisonwood Bible and Burger’s Daughter. I’m really surprised it’s taken me this long to read it considering I interned at Algonquin in 2003 and my concentration for my Masters was in African literature. I’m about twenty years too late in saying it’s a wonderful novel. It’s very different from Americanah, which I also loved, but that’s largely due to the age of our narrator. They are both very powerful reads.
Kambili is a sheltered and privileged 15-year-old. Her father is a wealthy businessman in Enugu, Nigeria and while many within the country are struggling, Kambili has plenty. Her and older brother, Jaja, attend a private missionary school where their performance is closely monitored by their father. Their every waking moment is planned and monitored by him. Their father converted to Catholicism and raises the family in the faith, shunning the old ways and the old beliefs. He has turned his back on his own father because he refuses to convert, and Kambili knows little of her grandfather or her aunt and cousins.
Kambili’s father is not just an overbearing and intolerant figure, he’s abusive, and his family suffers in silence as their community sings his praises. Jaja finally stands up to their father after he and Kambili spend time with their Aunty Ifeoma and her children in Nsukka, where they learn what it’s like to wake up in a house of a laughter.
Nigeria is in political turmoil. Kambili’s family is in turmoil. And Kambili is torn between a woman and a child, a faith she was raised under and a family she’s been denied, her father and her brother. Everything changes following their trip to Nsukka. As the purple hibiscus Jaja brought back with them blooms like a bruise, life will change forever for all of them.
Read this book.