Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus: Power, Abuse And Awakenings

 

A review of Purple Hibiscus by the 2007 Orange Prize (now the Bailey's Women's Prize) winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Purple Hibiscus was first published in 2003 by Algonquin Books and most recently by Narrative Landscape Press. Winner of the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize, Purple Hibiscus is available in 28 languages.

Cover images via Narrative Landscape Press and Chimamanda.

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus is a brilliant tracing of family and national faults, the things that build us into who we are, and the ways we can happen to life and vice versa.

I first read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus, when it was published 14 years ago, and I recall being in awe of her storytelling. As I reread it this year, that same feeling resurfaced. Purple Hibiscus tells a story about a seemingly normal Nigerian family unraveling as a military regime comes to power in Nigeria. The story captures the struggles of a politically troubled Nigeria as well as the disintegrating Achike family, both in a fight to bud and bloom in the face of abuse.

 

Power Must Change Hands

"

There are people, she once wrote, who think that we cannot rule ourselves because the few times we tried, we failed, as if all the others who rule themselves today got it right the first time."

– p.301a

Purple Hibiscus is set against the backdrop of a recent coup, and as the lives of the Achikes unravel at home, so does the country. Their aunt, Ifeoma, wrote the above to Kambili after moving to America because of unrest at her job in the University of Nigeria following the coup. Her words, presumably said about Americans, echo the sentiment of military leaders of the time. Pre-1999, military interventions in Nigeria were always under the guise of taking over to instill discipline, end corruption, and ensure order, correcting all the perceived mistakes of the democratic leadership.

The first time the coup is mentioned, it is as the priest holds up Kambili’s father, Eugene Achike, as a shining example of how to act right in the face of one. To hear the priest tell it, Kambili's Papa is a shining example of a person who "reflects the Triumphant Entry". He uses his newspaper to speak out for freedom, makes the biggest donations to the church, and he watches to see who does not take communion so they can be restored to the fold. Eugene, venerated by the priest during Sunday Mass, upheld by the village folk and generally praised by all who know him, seems like the perfect man.

 

Mask Off

In office, successive military governments failed to deliver all they promised and, in the course of holding on to power by means of force, eroded justice in the country. The coup and military government in Purple Hibiscus are no different. The rule of force leaves no room for dissent, and where any citizens or institutions tried to speak truth, they were met with punishment designed to ensure they fell in line quietly. In spite of Kambili’s father Eugene’s ‘goodness’, it is easy to draw parallels between the Achike home and the country, between him and the military leaders.

Eugene’s children and wife are proud of what a good man he is. Kambili holds herself together to prevent her pride from showing because her father emphasises the importance of modesty. Everything is because ‘Papa said.’ Their practiced responses and reactions, all in the way and measure Papa said. His word is law. They are proud, yet terrified of what a punishing man he is. To them. At home. Where no one sees. Where he pours hot water on his teenage daughter's feet, as tears stream down his face, supposedly out of love because "...you saw the sin clearly and you walked right into it." Kambili’s mother, Beatrice, is a meek woman who does everything to try to please her husband. When she fails, she is battered to the point of hospitalisation.

In spite of the prison-like conditions of her life, Beatrice is incredibly grateful to have Eugene. She tells her daughter about how he has stayed with her, despite the fact that she’s only given him two children, grateful he has not left her despite the comments by relatives. When her husband’s sister tries to persuade her to leave because of his abuse, Beatrice waves the advice aside, chalking it up to Ifeoma’s “university ideas”. The children are raised in a near-militaristic way that leaves them without a name for the abuse their father perpetuates or a voice even when outside the home. Out in the world—in school or even among their cousins—Kambili walks around tongue tied, longing to speak but finding herself unable to. Abuse, emotional and/or physical, takes a toll on the victims, one that sometimes leads to long-term effects, including physical illness.

 

Fight Or Flee

Everyone has a breaking point—the question is if it leads them to fight or flee. In Purple Hibiscus, citizens protest the military rule at first, but as the days turn on their sides and bring more awareness of the times in which they lived, they shrink back. It starts with driving with leaves on one’s car to signify peace, to people doing nothing as soldiers whip wantonly in the marketplace, then institutional issues like installing sole administrators in universities. The press mirrors this position, learning silence.

Aunty Ifeoma, who tries, in her own little environment in the University, to take a stand, finds that it is hard to fight the power. Like many others who left Nigeria in those years, she packs her bags and her children and leaves for America. A few people try on the national scale. Eugene provides the platform, and his Editor, Ade Coker, continues to speak and take a stand against the military, yet, even they are quieted in the end.

Everyone has a breaking point—the question is if it leads them to fight or flee. For Beatrice, it is when her husband beats another foetus out of her, so hard she insists as she recounts, “it has never happened like this before.” For Kambili and her brother Jaja, it is their first time away from their parents. Seeing how their cousins live with their aunt shakes something loose in them. The order Eugene instilled for almost two decades falls apart after all this, leaving one dead, another jailed, and the remaining two of the four Achikes going against all the morality Eugene had tried to enforce in order to keep what’s left of their family.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus is a brilliant tracing of family and national faults, the things that build us into who we are, and the ways we can happen to life and vice versa. "Immensely powerful" as The Times describes, it is one of those timeless books that deserve revisiting.

 


Notes

a Page 301 referenced from 4th Estate Books Edition of Purple Hibiscus.

 

20 Summer Reads We Recommend

Though some may argue that referring to July as summer in Nigeria is pretentious, truth remains that it is the most anticipated time of the year for both in-house Nigerians and those in the diaspora — students are on holiday, and many others are taking a much needed break from work.

Summer is certainly the perfect time to catch up on your reading! Whether you are trying to get lost in a good book, or avoid the chit-chat with strangers, TBBNQ writers have made you a list of books to read, including short notes on why we recommend each.

 

FICTION

And After Many Days

By Jowhor Ile

“Ile's writing is a lyrical beauty as he tells a heartbreaking story about a boy who goes missing, and the aftermath as his family grapples with that loss during the political instability of 90's Nigeria.”

 

The Book Of Night Women 

By Marlon James

“An extremely poignant book which I found difficult to put down. This is a book that is written so well that it offers the reader the opportunity to exercise empathy in its purest form. You'll enjoy Lilith's character in particular!”

Daughters Who Walk This Path 

By Yejide Kilanko

“A coming of age tale that explores the dynamics of growing up as a woman in Nigeria. Kilanko highlights cultural burdens imposed on women from a very young age.”

Second Class Citizen

By Buchi Emecheta

“Second Class Citizen was so immersive that it made me feel like I had travelled overseas with the main character. Though I read it as a teenager, the story remains vivid in my mind.”

Stay With Me

By Ayobami Adebayo

“This book tells a story of loss and love lost so beautifully that it made me laugh, cry, scream and sing. It is filled with poetic writing and mind-blowing twists. It’s no wonder it was shortlisted for the 2017 Bailey’s Prize!”

Read our review here.

The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives

By Lola Shoneyin

“In this book, you’ll meet your neighbour, that ‘uncle’, and possibly some members of your extended family. Though the storyline is predictable, it’s a hilarious and accurate reflection of a (polygamous) Nigerian household!

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun 

By Sarah Ladipo Manyika

“This is a short and sweet delight! Manyika creates one of my favourite protagonists in Morayo Williams, and shows that aging does not have to be end of sexuality or happiness.”

The Woman Next Door

By Yewande Omotoso

“A decades-long discord between two women is reconsidered as deeper issues like racism and infidelity bubble to the fore in this wickedly witty tale!”

 

 

NON-FICTION

ON NIGERIA

There Was A Country: A Personal History Of Biafra

By Chinua Achebe

“Achebe offers a personal account of the Nigerian civil war and explores the complexities of a post-war Nigeria. Staying true to his captivating use of language, Achebe leaves you with no emotion unfelt."

The Chibok Girls

By Helon Habila

“This book is sure to awaken the slumbered humanity within anyone. It not only gives a good understanding of the core issues of the resurgence in Northern Nigeria, but succinctly maps the evolution and dysfunction of Nigeria. It brings you to a new level of shook.”

We have a copy travelling through Lagos and Abuja. Send an email to find out more!

A History Of Nigeria

By Toyin Falola and Matthew Heaton

“A multidimensional resource on Nigerian history from the transatlantic slave trade to post-independence; Biafra, military regimes and civilian rule. The authors’ ability to embrace and document the cultural evolution of the Nigerian people makes it richer.”

Against The Run of Play

By Olusegun Adeniyi

“Against the Run of Play reflects on the defeat of an incumbent party by the opposition in the 2015 presidential election. Adeniyi provides insight into leadership and institutional factors that contributed to the unseating of the long running ruling party.”

 

OTHERS

James Baldwin: The Last Interview And Other Conversations

By James Baldwin

“Baldwin is spectacular — a truth-teller and all-round cool dude. There can only be one Baldwin, but let's just say that if your priest/pastor were Baldwin incarnate, you would never miss Church on Sundays.”

Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Adichie has always been vocal about feminism, and, in Dear Ijeawele, she puts together a great guide on raising children in a way that will ensure we someday have a society where gender equality is the norm.”

This book is also travelling through Lagos. Send an email to join in!

Born A Crime

By Trevor Noah

“Easily one of my favourite books read in 2017! It's a perfect blend of humour and sentiment as it gives a view of South Africa through the eyes of TV host and comedian, Trevor Noah, and the lessons he learnt from his exceptional mother.”

How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

By Walter Rodney

“Walter Rodney explores the role of the capitalist nature of the International Political Economy in suppressing Africa’s economic potential. This book reiterates the importance of regarding historical inequalities and the economics of colonialism.”

 

BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR

Of course, reading does not end with summer! Here are a few books - yet to be released on the continent - we cannot wait to get our hands on!

 

To purchase any of the books, follow the links provided or, contact us for nation wide delivery.