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Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus (original 2003; edition 2008)

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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2,1821022,978 (4)1 / 461
Title:Purple Hibiscus
Authors:Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Info:HARPER PERENNIAL (2008), Paperback, 307 pages
Collections:Already Read, Your library
Tags:Acquired in 2009/earlier, @2011

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Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003)


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English (94)  Finnish (3)  French (1)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (102)
Showing 1-5 of 94 (next | show all)
Disturbing novel; family violence ( )
  siri51 | Sep 12, 2015 |
I love those moments of serendipity that occur in a favourite second hand book shop, moments in which a hankering to return to post-colonial writers lead me to reach for a new author. In this instance it was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I too, like one of her blurbists, noted the deliberate echo of Chinua Achebe in the very opening line of her first novel, Purple Hibiscus.

As it happened it would be six years before I read it. A trip to parts of Africa inspired me to read another “coming of age” post-colonial, feminist(ish) novel, Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions . Dangarembga wrote first, and may have influenced Adichie; Achebe certainly did. But like Dangarembga, Adichie is a new generation, building on the insights of the first round of New Literaturists, building on the shoulders of the Achebes and Ngũgĩs. The terse, intercultural narrative is similar, the feminism is new. The familiar themes are there, though: coming of age as a society emerges from a hegemony that was both exploitative and yet sometimes paradoxically munificent. I do not say that lightly: the post-colonial narrative that dictates that all colonization and all Westernisation and all Christianization is destructive, evil, parasitical. It’s worth recalling for example that Botswana sought British protectorate status, that Ethiopian Christianity is as old as the religion itself, that all was not Utopia in pre-contact tribal societies.

Adichie gets that. The metaphor of the purple hibiscus is a blending of DNA, if that’s the right genetic term, and underscores the entire narrative to which it gives its name. Hibiscus is not naturally purple, but with skill and manipulation and blending it can, apparently, become so. Black is not good and white is not evil. Christianity is not per se evil, nor tribal religion per se nirvana, despite some narratives that suggest this to be so. Adichie gets that. Papa Eugene, the protagonist’s abusive, destructive father is not all evil: he funds entire villages, and bankrolls the one Nigerian media outlet, the Standard, that dares to stand up to a dictatorial military government. The editor of the Standard, Ade Cocker, who sacrifices his life in the pursuit of justice, is bespectacled and jovial, an unlikely description of a martyr. Adichie gets that life is not a war comic, in which the good are handsome and the bad are ugly. Papa Eugene could so easily have been a pompous, destructive, abusive Christian bully, yet in his tortured way he bankrolls justice: just not justice for his family. Fr Amadi, the hip priest who stands as a foil to the severe and conservative Fr Benedict, stands in the narrative as a powerful symbol of compassion and justice, but those of us trained in the warning signs of pastoral care would suggest that he dangerously oversteps pastoral propriety as he permits the protagonist Kambili to fall in love with him. Yet he never exploits her love, even if he does engage in sexual brinkmanship.

Kambili is a gorgeous protagonist. If Fr Amadi is undoubtedly a little in love with her, so was this aged reader by the time she left the pages with her bowed but unbroken mother. This is a coming of age novel, like Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions , but it is more clear in Adichie’s novel that Nigeria, as well as Kambili, is coming of age in all the complexity of that passage. Other characters, too have greater complexity than the secondary characters in Dangarembga’s novel: Jaja is a complex sacrificial self-offering, and with the feisty but in the end America-pliable cousin Amaka is a more fully fleshed, fifty shades of grey human being than and caricature could offer.

The only reviewer Adichie has ever taken notice of is Chinua Achebe, who admired her work. I can see why. Achebe was a man who would be proud to see the torch he lit handed on to new and more complete writers. Achebe’s torch is safe in the hands of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: this is one of the finest novels, and perhaps the finest first novel of any post-modern era writer that I have read. ( )
  zappa | Apr 28, 2015 |
It seems like a difficult thing to write a book that is honest about both the very good and the very bad in human nature without either glossing over the brutal bits or dwelling on them so much that you wring all hope out of the good bits. In Purple Hibiscus, Adichie has found her way over this difficulty with virtuosity. She dwells not only on the beauty and not only on the brutality, but she allows them to coexist side by side, giving each more significance and poignancy in the contrast.

I recently read Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped, and while it's a powerful memoir and I trust that the pull Ward feels towards Mississippi is very strong, nothing in the book really helped me understand what made her want to return. There's this ineffable sense of "home" one pursues, I imagine, but what is it specifically that draws someone to a particular place? What does that "home" feel like? Purple Hibiscus made it clear not only why someone would want to leave Nigeria but also why someone would want to stay, even when she has other options. The language and descriptions were so vivid, I felt the heat and smelled the air after the rain. I have never been to Nigeria so I have no idea if my mental picture is accurate, but it was vivid enough to make me forget the piles of snow about to engulf the street sign on our corner, and to help me understand what---beyond familiarity---draws people to this particular place.

Adichie allows the good and bad of the country to echo in the relationship of Kambili's family with her father, making it easier to understand why someone can both want to escape and long for a dangerous relationship. By telling the story through Kambili's eyes, Adichie helps to ease us into this world. She doesn't lay everything out all at once because Kambili doesn't see it that way. There are things Kambili knows that she doesn't need to replay unless it's necessary, and since she downplays the bad in her own mind, we get a bit of a buffer from it, too. I also love how none of the characters is either all good or all evil. They are a mix, which makes them feel real.

This is an extraordinarily powerful book of contrasts, and I look forward to reading more of Adichie's novels. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Mar 26, 2015 |
(Replacement copy of lost book.) First book by Adichie that I have read. I think it is extraordinarily well written, and beautifully structured. The tale is a terrible one, of a fanatically religious father, worshipped by his wife, daughter, employees and villagers. He objects to his children having contact with their grandfather or their aunt and her family because they are not conforming catholics according to his zealous definition. There is a coup d'etat and the children are exposed to violence. They stay with their non-conformist aunt and learn to question their father's fanaticism and discipline. The harm done by the violent father is not curable even by a murder. Astoundingly brilliant picture of adolescent growth and pain. Structurally, I think it is her finest book. I am reminded of [The Brothers Karamazov]. ( )
  almigwin | Feb 20, 2015 |
The observant reader of my blog may observe that 20th-century Literature (by which I mean non-genre fiction; a nomenclature I find ridiculous at best) is something I avoid. To put it in briefest possible terms, I find the genre (and that's why it's ridiculous: because Literature-with-a-capital-L is a genre even if pretends it's not), how shall we say it, boring. I can rarely get past page one of any book dealing with modern people doing modern things in a setting with which I am familiar, i.e. America and Britain and to some extent Western Europe. Which is the first reason why I was willing to pick up Purple Hibiscus; it takes place in Nigeria, a place I embarrassingly know nothing about. The second reason, or rather the inspiration, was that I saw Adichie's wonderful TED Talk. That was what made me read page one. Page one made me read page two. The last page made me wish there was a sequel, just so I could see what happened to the characters later in their lives. It's a pretty simple story; a young woman and their brother, with the help of their subtly subversive Aunty Ifeoma, break free of the influence of their outwardly laudable, but privately abusive father. The characters were nicely drawn, even the father; I rooted for the main character, Kambili, and I loved Aunty Ifeoma. The flavor and atmosphere of Nigeria come across clearly - the scents, the food, the politics - and I felt as I was reading that I was taking a tiny vacation. Recommended for fans of modern literature...and apparently, some readers who aren't.

I sat at my bedroom window after I changed; the cashew tree was so close I could reach out and pluck a leaf if it were not for the silver-colored crisscross of mosquito netting. The bell-shaped yellow fruits hung lazily, drawing buzzing bees that bumped against my window's netting. I heard Papa walk upstairs to his room for his afternoon siesta. I closed my eyes, sat still, waiting to hear him call Jaja, to hear Jaja go into his room. But after long, silent minutes, I opened my eyes and pressed my forehead against the window louvers to look outside. Our yard was wide enough to hold a hundred people dancing atilogu, spacious enough for each dancer to do the usual somersaults and land on the next dancer's shoulders. The compound walls, topped by coiled electric wires, were so high I could not see the cars driving by on our street. It was early rainy season, and the frangipani trees planted next to the walls already filled the yard with the sickly-sweet scent of their flowers. A row of purple bougainvillea, cut smooth and straight as a buffet table, separated the gnarled trees from the driveway. Closer to the house, vibrant bushes of hibiscus reached out and touched one another as if they were exchanging their petals. The purple plants had started to push out sleepy buds, but most of the flowers were still on the red ones. They seemed to bloom so fast, those red hibiscuses, considering how often Mama cut them to decorate the church altar and how often visitors plucked them as they walked past to their parked cars.

Review from my blog, This Space Intentionally Left Blank ( )
1 vote emepps | Jan 23, 2015 |
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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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For Professor James Nwoye Adichie and Mrs. Grace Ifeoma Adichie, my parents, my heroes, ndi o ga-adili mma
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Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the etagere.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0007189885, Paperback)

Purple Hibiscus, Nigerian-born writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's debut, begins like many novels set in regions considered exotic by the western reader: the politics, climate, social customs, and, above all, food of Nigeria (balls of fufu rolled between the fingers, okpa bought from roadside vendors) unfold like the purple hibiscus of the title, rare and fascinating. But within a few pages, these details, however vividly rendered, melt into the background of a larger, more compelling story of a joyless family. Fifteen-year-old Kambili is the dutiful and self-effacing daughter of a rich man, a religious fanatic and domestic tyrant whose public image is of a politically courageous newspaper publisher and philanthropist. No one in Papa's ancestral village, where he is titled "Omelora" (One Who Does For the Community), knows why Kambili¹s brother cannot move one of his fingers, nor why her mother keeps losing her pregnancies. When a widowed aunt takes an interest in Kambili, her family begins to unravel and re-form itself in unpredictable ways. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:32 -0400)

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In the city of Egunu, Nigeria, fifteen year-old Kambili and her older brother Jaja lead a somewhat cloistered life. Their father is a wealthy businessman, they live in a beautiful home, and attend private school. But, through Kambili's eyes, we see that their home life is anything but harmonious. Her father, a fanatically religious man has impossible expectations of his children and his wife, and if things don't go his way he becomes physically abusive. Not until Kambili and Jaja are sent away from home for the very first time to visit their loving aunt, does Kambili's world begin to blossom. But when a military coup threatens to destroy the country, the tension in her family's home escalates, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together.… (more)

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