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Excellent first novel
on October 7, 2003
Those who know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from her short stories have high expectations of her. "Purple Hibiscus" lives up to expectations.
"Purple Hibiscus" is a coming-of-age story set in Nigeria during the Abacha military regime of the mid-1990s, told through the eyes of 15-year-old Kambili Achike. Kambili's father Eugene, a wealthy Igbo businessman and newspaper publisher, is in many ways a heroic figure; he is a pillar of the church, loyal and generous to his employees and home village and one of the few publishers with the courage to stand up to the military government. The same fanatic religious faith that feeds his stern public morality, however, leads him to ostracize his father and physically abuse his wife and children.
Kambili, who has lived under her father's hand throughout her life, is a shadow of a person as the novel begins. As the story progresses, she learns independence and self-reliance from her university-professor aunt Ifeoma, her teenage cousin Amaka and the iconoclastic priest Father Amadi. At the same time, the deterioration of the country and her father's increasingly abusive behavior drive the family closer to collapse.
"Purple Hibiscus" is a powerful and sophisticated first novel, and comparison between Adichie and Igbo literary giant Chinua Achebe is not out of place. Achebe's novels, though, tend toward the epic, using their characters to tell the story of their country. Adichie has also spoken in this voice, in short stories such as "Half of a Yellow Sun," but "Purple Hibiscus" is a more intimate portrait. Politics sometimes intrudes through scenes of student riots and the persecution of one of Eugene's editors, but most of the political events happen offstage and are seen through their effect on the family. For all the powerful sense of place in "Purple Hibiscus," Kambili's story is one that could happen anywhere.