The Book Club – Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This months novel, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was an interesting read, mainly because it put across with great clarity and understanding issues which are often dramatised and reliant on stereotypes: domestic violence, emotional manipulation and religious fundamentalism. From what we know of Chimamanda, she always speaks very highly of her parents in interviews and seems not to have directly experienced these issues in childhood (this is speculation of course), so her writings on these issues seem particularly well observed, especially the depiction of Kambili’s simultaneous worship and terror of her father, a local hero and businessman who is adored by their community.

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Purple Hibiscus speaks primarily of dualities; that of a public and private persona, the love for and hatred of an abuser, and the many faces of religion. Kambili comes from a wealthy home, but religion there is pious and punishing. Her Aunt Ifeoma runs a house full of plenty and joyful worship, yet they live in grinding poverty. Their grandfather, Papa Nnukwu’s beliefs are indigenous and ‘pagan’, yet he seems to have the most generous and compassionate beliefs of all.

The novel also portrays the cyclical nature of abuse, perpetuated by emotional manipulation, and the unwillingness of the local community to condemn someone who provides so generously for them – we spoke a little about how domestic abuse is perceived as accepted as a part of life in some communities, but also is prevalent in our own society, yet forgiven when the culprit is a famous musician, politician or activist. Kimball’s mother Beatrice is silenced both by her abuse and by the author, we hear very little of her voice throughout the book – a few of us felt this was a shame, as we would have liked to have understood her journey to her eventual breaking point at the end of the novel. Kambili’s cycle of abuse is broken when she is introduced to her Aunt’s family, where their identities are encouraged to flourish rather than be downtrodden. Father Amadi teaches her that she is deserving of love (although a few of us felt that the relationship was inappropriate, especially in the case of a vulnerable 15 year old), and Jaja is introduced to a new passion in botany. Ultimately we felt that the title of the book was a representation of this, the purple Hibiscus is a new species of flower, an option previously unexplored or thought not to be possible. It is the freedom of experimenting with an unknown alternative.

Written by Rosie Mitchell for Shoreditch Sisters