Purple Hibiscus

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

NYC Book Club pick. Although first published in 2003, it still holds up as a universal coming-of-age (bildungsroman) and glimpse into daily and political life at the time in Nigeria.

Kambili is a fifteen year old Nigerian girl from a wealthy family. Her father is devoutly Catholic and gives generously to the Church and community where they live and worship in the city. They also have a country home where they spend Christmas and where Eugene, the father grew up. He rejects his own father as a “pagan” for believing in indigenous traditions and will only allow his children to visit him for 15 minutes during their holiday visit. They are never allowed to eat or drink anything at his home.

This typifies Eugene’s strict, cruel doctrinaire personality. He seems magnanimous to outsiders yet is anything but with his own family. Kambili and her brother Jaja are wedded to a structure which keeps them as safe as possible from their father’s wrath. Their mother Beatrice absorbs most of the physical abuse.

This is an intimate glimpse into life in Nigeria, its food and culture which evokes colors and smells on every page. It also transcends geographic idiosyncrasies in its common theme of family dysfunction relatable in any land. Yet it also tackles social norms, financial structure and political volatility particular to Nigeria of the time.

An Auntie and a missionary priest provide different perspectives on life for good and ill. The purple hibiscus, a rare flower in Auntie’s garden brings rare joy in the midst of the daily strife. One of NYC Book Club’s faves.

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