Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Review of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I had less than two days to read this (because it was the current book of a reading group I was going to for the first time) and I think that fact might have increased by enjoyment of the book. This is partly due to the intensity of reading to a deadline, but also I think I might have found the novel annoying read at a more leisurely pace.

Purple Hibiscus narrated by a 15-year-old Nigerian girl, Kambili, and the story concerns her relationships to her family and is set against a background of upheaval in Nigeria. Kambili's father, Eugene, is an authoritarian and strict Catholic – so much so that, for instance he refuses to allow his children to see his father for more than 15 minutes because the latter is a 'pagan'. But at the same time, Eugene is a quiet, thoughtful, modest man who loves his children, gives to charity and owns the only newspaper that speaks out against the regime.

The book is very understated, mainly because the narrator is such a quiet person. Although in her mid-teens, Kambili is as naïve as a girl half her age, and when she spends some time with her aunt and cousins she has to adjust to a household full of chat and laughter and argument. She is very reminiscent of the protagonists of The Icarus Girl and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I have to say (I don't have to say, but I'm going to) that I empathised with her a lot – often, silence is my only reaction to a confusing social world.

The high religion quotient and the naïveté of the narrative ought to have left me cold, but somehow it worked. The book probably isn't as moving as it ought to be – as someone in the reading group said, it should have been heartbreaking but it was just 'weirdly soporific'. But it's a convincing portrait of a person, a family and a country that have been screwed up by religion, colonialisation and power.

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Categories: Literature, Reviews
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