Purple Hibiscus is a coming of age story about 15-year-old Nigerian girl Kambili. She both hero worships her father Eugene and fears his wrath. Eugene is a dichotomy of sorts – he stands for the things we all cheer for – such as freedom of the press and aid to those less fortunate than him – but at the same time is a controlling tyrant – abusive, and extremist in his approach towards religion.
Thus while the community celebrates him as a hero, 15-year-old Kambili, her elder brother Jaja and their mother all live in fear, in an uncomfortable silence with carefully engineered controls. When a deepening political crisis in Nigeria leads the two children to go stay with their Aunty Ifeoma and her children, it challenges everything she thought she knew, and alters her permanently.
Her world opens up – though not without it’s share of pain and discomfort – and that is what growth is all about. What is beautiful about her transition is that it does not happen all at once – there is a push and pull – between her old world and new and it takes a long time for her to change – which is ultimately an undeniable fact of human life.
This novel is first and foremost about freedom and its connection to money and happiness. Wealth has not made Kambili and her family free, nor has it made them happy. Can freedom and ultimately happiness come without wealth?
Kambili is painfully shy and awkward, and generally too tongue-tied to correct the snobbish impressions she gives off. Her progression to a more confident young woman who feels comfortable pushing boundaries frees her from the mental prisons her father has instilled into her mind. When she finally lets go of these, she becomes freer, not just from her father, but to be and express herself.
At one point, whilst describing Jaja committing an act of defiance, Kambili says: “Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.” This novel is about their journey to freedom of existence – to live without fear of consequence and ultimately in peace.
The book is also about freedom from the lingering attitudes of colonialism – the dichotomy between the biases towards their ethnic Igbo culture, and the ways of the west introduced by the age of imperialism. Where does internalizing those attitudes towards our own culture leave us? How do we balance both sets of influences?
Although this is not altogether a happy story from many angles, it brings hope – for change and for growth. And there is no concept more human than that.
Purple Hibiscus by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was first published in Oct 2003. It was Longlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize and Shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize. This book was reviewed by Mira Saraf for IWI.*
All the opinions stated herein are of the reviewer and Incredible Women of India does not conform to the same.
– By Mira Saraf, for IWI*
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