After reading Americanah I was keen to read more of Adichie’s writing. Purple Hibiscus was Adichie’s début novel and it received a lot of critical praise. I think rightly so!
The novel has a confident yet sensitive style which I think is echoed in Americanah. Purple Hibiscus is set in Nigeria against the backdrop of a military coup and this political drama is interwoven into the story of Kambili and her family. Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a successful businessman and a zealous Catholic. He is a complex character: devout and extremely generous, especially within the community, yet also close-minded and violent. Kambili, along with her mother and brother, Jaja, live in fear of him, within the repressive confines of his household. Yet Kambili dearly loves her father too and desperately craves his praise and attention. It would have been easy to make Eugene a hated character, and in some ways he is, but I also pitied him and in some ways respected him too. Adichie has deftly constructed a three-dimensional character who embodies the reality that things are never just black and white.
Kambili is also a complicated character and we see her develop over the course of the novel. When she and her brother leave the confines of religious oppression and domestic violence at home to stay with their Aunt in Nsukka, she is exposed to a freedom that she did not know existed. But she also learns the harsh realities of the military government that she was shielded from by her wealthy father.
Purple Hibiscus is a novel of contradictions: devotion and defiance, repression and freedom, old and new, childhood and maturity.The ending of the novel plays out in a quick succession of events that tumble out one after the other in a way that surprised me after the measured pace that governs the rest of the novel.
It is powerfully written and I really enjoyed reading it. I will definitely be searching out Adichie’s other novel, Half of a Yellow Sun.