Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A review of the coming-of-age literary novel Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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Purple Hibiscus is the story of Kambili and Jaja, who live a life of ease and privilege in Nigeria with their parents. Their father is wealthy, well-respected, well-liked, and a pillar of the community, as well as a foaming religious tyrant who beats and abuses his wife and children. During political upheaval, Kambili and Jaja are sent to stay with their aunt and her family. In being able to be away from their father’s despot eye they slowly begin to find freedom.

This was a really powerful novel. The writing was not especially flowery or beautiful, but it was so confident and descriptive it didn’t need to be anything else. The book is narrated by Kambili. Her voice is so strong that it vividly shows the turmoil going on inside her, how she wants more than she is allowed to have, and how her father’s brainwashing is deep rooted, in addition to how much she loves him, despite everything that he does to her and her family.

The book is very character-driven, and it did feel a touch like it was lacking urgency in a few places. But then it would come back with an amazingly powerful character moment, and I would have to keep reading. There is a scene where (Spoilers ahead!) Kambili’s father pours boiling water on her feet as a punishment, and the way that she and her father handle that moment was profoundly disturbing. Kambili’s father was a fascinating, repulsive character; a tyrant who convinces himself he acts out of love. Adiche draws him with such detail that all his weaknesses show through—the insecurities, and internalised racism that drives his actions is painful to see. It’s not that one feels sorry for him; it is a nuanced portrait that is painted.

Purple Hibiscus is a thought-provoking, compelling read, and I would definitely recommend it.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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