Purple Hibiscus (CBR13 #69)

Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus is a coming-of-age story and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s debut novel. It is the story of fifteen-year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja who lead a privileged life in Enugu, Nigeria. In some ways they are completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, it is revealed rather quickly that things are less perfect than they appear. Although her Papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home—a home that is silent and suffocating. As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority.

The mechanics of Purple Hibiscus are very strong. The atmosphere of living with an abusive parent was captured well and the book is full of expressive prose that captures the emotional turmoil of adolescence. While the writing itself was excellent, I had a hard time with everything that those mechanics were meant to be delivering. It can be easy to be swept up in beautiful language but there was lurking here a hollowness that I couldn’t see past. The character of Kambili is the easiest place to explain the problem. I was made to feel sympathetic towards her (and her mother and brother), but it wasn’t because of a connection to them, but instead because of an understanding of the monster lurking in Kambili’s father that was never very far below the surface.

CW: miscarriages due to physical abuse (mostly off-page), spousal abuse, child abuse.

Reviewer’s note: it should be noted that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a history of anti-trans and pro TERF statements, including a defense of J.K. Rowling in late 2020. I have attempted to review this work without taking that knowledge into account, but it is likely that this is my last Adichie novel. While it is possible to separate the art from the artist, I find it difficult to do so in cases where the author is promoting views which are actively harmful to our trans and non-binary siblings.

About Katie

Museum professional, caffeine junkie, book lover, student of history, overall goofball.

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