Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Book Review

Purple Hibiscus is carefully crafted and presented through form and content relevant to the African context. The author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, made her debut as an author through the publication of this novel. Purple Hibiscus was published in 2003, which set the stage for publication of additional and captivating titles. Additional works by Chimamanda include Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), Americanah (2013).

Purple Hibiscus Summary

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- Purple Hibiscus, african-literature.net

Purple Hibiscus is Chimamanda’s debut novel.

Purple Hibiscus narrates the story of Eugene and his family, where he is committed to raising the desirable model of a family. He opts for Christianity as the preferred religion for his family; though his wife, son and daughter are not given any room to choose their religious preferences. The novel begins with Papa’s violent eruption during family time, an event which is later explained toward the end of the novel. This gives the author a unique opportunity to portray the well-rounded picture of events unfolding in the story line. Eugene is married to Beatrice, and together they have a son (Chukwuka Achike) and a daughter (Kambili). The story is told through Kambili’s eyes, giving the reader a clear and unbiased view of all events, character’s perspectives and relationships in the novel. Eugene’s family environment is ‘closed’ from the rest of the world, as Kambili and Achike/Jaja have little to no room for social and emotional growth. The emotional and social suppression in the family takes a toll on the children, who experience feelings of displacement and isolation in school and the extended family context. The situation in Eugene’s family changes when the children get the opportunity to visit their Aunt, Ifeoma, in the University town of Nsuka. Aunty Ifeoma raises her children as a single parent and works hard to provide for Amaka and her siblings. The environment in Nsuka lasts for a short while due to their father’s domineering style of parenting. However, the short stay causes a shift in the way Kambili and Jaja view social relationships, and they notice the distortion in socialization that has led to their current position. Aunty Ifeoma, Father Amadi and Amaka make significant contribution to Kambili’s emotional and social transformation. Jaja revolts against his father’s authoritative rule, which partly helps him affirm his position as a young man and only son in the family. Eugene’s emotional abuse toward his wife culminates into physical abuse toward the wife and children. Eugene’s wife poisons him. He dies a short while after the poisoning. Jaja, his son, takes responsibility for the crime, where he opts for jail-term on behalf of his mother. Jail-term hardens Jaja, who is seemingly transformed by the time he leaves prison. The mother uses the family inheritance to bribe her way to frequently visiting her son, the last of which involves the announcement of Jaja’s release. Kambili has also experienced transformation into a young and confident woman. Aunty Ifeoma continues to write letters from abroad, following her departure a few years earlier. Since Eugene’s death and the incarceration of her son, Beatrice has continually grown physically weak. She rarely initiates or takes part in communication, but shows signs of renewed life and alertness after the announcement of Jaja’s pending release from prison. Chimamanda highlights the culmination of political tension in the country, as the successful staging of a coup results in the change of the country’s leadership. Beatrice and her children have the promise of being re-united as the novel comes to a close.

Purple Hibiscus Book Review

The novel clearly communicates Chimamanda’s thoughts to her audience. Perhaps the outstanding feature present throughout the novel is the author’s fascination with beauty and attention to detail in each event. Flowers such as the Purple hibiscus (which is also the book’s title) Indian Jasmine, and the periwinkle flower are mentioned in some parts of the novel. Chimamanda describes the flowers’ beauty in detail, and with it establishes the femininity of her story line. Eugene represents the seemingly immortal domineering father figure. However, his position cannot remain unchallenged for long. His fate is seemingly meant to match that of Okonkwo, in the novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. This is highly likely the case considering Chimamanda’s admiration of Achebe’s work on African culture and identity. Her opening line in the novel reads “Things started to fall apart…,” which is arguably a tribute to the mentor in African literary writing. In more ways than not, Eugene is an embodiment of Okonkwo, giving a timeless aspect to the social, economic and political issues that impact negatively on the African continent. The African contemporary space is vulnerable to retrogressive perspectives meted against Africans, which is clearly laid out in the novel. Chimamanda is skilled enough to satisfy the reader’s thirst for fiction, without detachment from the real issues that impact on the African social, economic and political environment. Eugene’s death, as captured towards the end of the novel, symbolically represents the death of oppression among the African people (in the person of Beatrice, Kambili and Jaja), which is further reinforced in the coup event in Nigeria. Aunty Ifeoma and her children represent the high price paid by those who choose to stand their ground against oppressive regimes and political influences. Politics is a significant force in the liberation of the African people. The themes addressed in the novel include;

Religion; Chimamanda explores the double standards employed in some religious contexts. The basis of sincere and insincere religion is seemingly based on understanding religious obligations in context of the African culture. Father Amadi and Eugene offer highly contrasting examples of individuals involved in religious matters. The author makes an analysis of religion as a useful tool for socialization, which is also potentially manipulated for execution of selfish ambitions. Eugene’s cover-up with religion did not keep him from downfall, while Father Amadi’s practice of religion proved fruitful, offering Kambili the opportunity for healing and emotional growth as a young lady.

Feminism; the author explores Beatrice’s ever-dominant but silent voice that holds the family together. Eugene’s actions work toward destruction of the family (such as severe beating of Kambili), while Beatrice is seemingly committed to collecting the pieces. Aunty Ifeoma is also featured as the anchor of her family, where she manages to raise it without the father’s help. Chimamanda’s occasional feature of beauty through flowers seemingly holds the peace in the midst of emotional suffering and emptiness in Eugene’s compound.

The characters in Purple Hibiscus come to life through their interactions and relationships with fellow characters. Major and minor characters in the novel help in the development of the story line and presentation of the themes. Consider main characters such as Eugene and Kambili, and minor characters such as Amaka, Obiora and Chima. Each of the characters is an importance participant in the successful development of the plot.

Chimamanda has positioned herself as one of the influential contemporary African writers. Her focus on the fictitious domain has given her the freedom of exploring and developing her creativity in the course of writing, while giving her the room for portrayal of African culture. Purple Hibiscus is a successful literary piece of writing, where the author makes significant contribution to the reclamation of African identity and culture. Themes relevant to the African context are clearly explored. The novel has set the stage for the author’s additional writing and engagement of the African literary audience.