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Forum Home > Book reviews > Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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A powerful account told through the eyes of a 15 year old touching on issues of religion and patriarchy. ‘Purple Hibiscus’ is rich in description , and has very vivid images that transport you to Nigeria, with the stereotypical ‘chiefs’, rich man with big houses of several storeys who give generously. Yet it feels so African that you can easily relate to the described landscape, laughter, daily survival tactics, bravery, docile and fighting spirits intermingling, no matter which African country you hail from. It has a freshness about it when it touches the age old problems of post-colonial societies and repressive governments and treads through those sensitive issues with the cunning ability only Chimamanda could master leaving you surprised.

Kimbili lived in fear of her papa who like many fathers, valued education and pushed their children to be the very best they could be. Pushed them so hard, it slowly killed them inside as he negatively reinforced what he wanted, with severe punishments for what he saw as failure to meet up to the standards he expected.

“We did not scale the rod because we believed we could, we scaled it because we were terrified that we couldn’t.”

This was in contrast to Aunt Ifeoma who still expected the best of her children but encouraged them positively and allowed them to bloom and express themselves.

The novel seems to challenge religion; the new (Christian-Roman Catholic) and the old (Traditionalist) and shows that fanaticism may be dangerous. The good and the bad of religion may not be as black and white as religious people seem to think. They may be a grey area in between where religions can intersect through tolerance, and looking for the common denominators such as love and family.

It terrifies me that papa can easily be any one of us. Though the character is cast in the extreme, papa is very generous with his wealth, has strong beliefs about religion and the traditional society. He believes what he knows is right and does not tolerate any divergent views. How common such leaders can be found in Africa? Both arrogant in what they believe and ignorant of the things around them. Yet the irony of it is that he also publishes a newspaper very critical of the current government, which is also intolerant to opposition and the ‘truth’. He does not realise that he may be reflecting the state politics he resents in his own home.

There many scenarios like this, for example, where we criticise corrupt governments yet running our own corrupt families. How do you begin to change such a society for the good, where good does not even have a common definition? Where the people who have the fighting spirit leave the country for greener pastures because they seem to be fighting a big war they cannot win soon without compromising the lives of their own children.

It’s a thought provoking book that should make itself into the literature curriculums of African countries. I am proud to see such intense literature from a female Africa writer. Excellent piece of work!


July 14, 2014 at 10:27 AM Flag Quote & Reply

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