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on November 15, 2003
Written by 2003 O. Henry Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (who grew up in Nigeria), Purple Hibiscus is the gripping and literate novel of a privileged Nigerian family. A fifteen-year-old girl and her brother enjoy the trappings of wealth yet suffer under the strictness of their fanatically religious and controlling father. When a military coup threatens to destroy the country, turmoil, sacrifice, and danger promote desperation in this engrossing tale of coming of age. Purple Hibiscus is an enthusiastically recommended addition for all community library fiction collections.
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on May 4, 2004
"Purple Hibiscus" is the debut novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is the story of Kambili and her family. Kambili's father is a powerful force both at home and in the family. He holds fast to his Catholicism he views anyone who does not follow Christ as firmly as he does as a sinner and doomed to a fiery eternity. He is not simply the father, but the ruler of the household. Kambili's father sets a daily schedule for Kambili and her brother, Jaja, that they must follow to the minute and they are commanded to be the best students in their school. While Jaja has a strength to his character, Kambili is meek and has the sense of being emotionally beaten down, though she has a strong narration throughout the novel.
The novel is set in Nigeria and it begins on Palm Sunday with a fight within the family. Jaja is disobedient to his father and this seems like the beginning where cracks start appearing in the family, but Kambili tells us that the true beginning of this story happens earlier than this. The second section of the novel is "before Palm Sunday" and is set an uncertain amount of time before Palm Sunday (at least, I didn't figure out exactly what the timeframe was). This section traces Kambili's family and extended family as it leads up the Palm Sunday event, and we learn that the fight was not really a beginning, but an ending, that the fight was the result of all of the time before and the changes that were made in Kambili and Jaja, and by extension - to the family. Section Three is "After Palm Sunday" and we see the ramifications of that fight and at this point it feels inevitable what happens next.
This is a strong, powerful novel, and even though it is set in a location that I have no knowledge of, it is really a novel about a family and a 15 year old girl. Some things are universal, despite cultural differences. This story of Kambili and her family is one such thing. If you put the characters in a different setting (rural America, perhaps), the same story could play out with only a few differences. This is the power of the story, that knowing nothing of Nigeria, we can understand the story Adichie is spinning.
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on January 14, 2004
A journalist from the Times in London remarks that this is the best debut novel he has read since Arundhati Roy's 'The God of Small Things'. Indeed, this is a remarkable first novel by a 26 year author. Writing from the heart and no doubt using her experiences growing up in Nigeria, Adichie has produced a book that makes you intimately share every experience of Kambili, the narrator. You are enraged at the abuse she suffers from her father, a zealot who loves his children in his own twisted way while disowning his father for not converting to Catholicism. You feel the pangs of a first, forbidden love with her. You share her very existence as a girl who is perceived to be so rich and fortunate- but who cannot even linger to talk to friends at school or watch television or listen to pop music.
This is a beautiful novel. The characters are complex and thought-provoking. I could not figure out the father character, how he seems to genuinely love his wife and kids and even suffer along as he inflicts terrible pain and torture on them. In contrast are his sister, Aunty Ifeoma, and her lively kids who may want for material things but whose spirits soar. In the background is the turmoil of Nigeria- the corruption, the politics, the shortage of fuel, the power cuts, the unrest.
When I reached the end of the book, I found myself hoping for a sequel. What happens next to Kambili, Jaja and Aunty Ifeoma's family? Someone said that you know a book is good when you reach the end and feel you have lost a friend. I felt a bit like that on the last page. Highly recommended.
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on October 26, 2003
Purple Hibiscus
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
2003, 307 pages (hard)
ISBN # 1-56512-387-5
5 Star Rating
Dee Stewart, Reviewer
Fifteen year old, Kambili barely breaths, speaks or exists in her privileged, but suffocating Nigerian home with her brother Jaja and her parents. Kambili's father's dominance is felt not only in her home, but in all of Nigeria except for her Aunt Ifeoma. When Aunt Ifeoma persuades Kambili's father to allow the children to visit her in Nsukka, while they are on holiday. Kambili and Jaja's minds blossom into free spirits. JaJa learns the beauty of life, while Kambili falls in love with a handsome young priest. How will these two go back to such a strict and abusive home when they have been surrounded around love and the beauty of the purple hibiscus?
Adichie writes so effortlessly that you find yourself transported to Nigeria, smelling the rich soil and tasting the flowers. Purple hibiscus is a superbly written work. It is enchanting and engaging all at once. One of my favorite lines in the book is :

I love short works of fiction be it short stories or novellas, because they cut to the chase and tell the story matter-of-factly. Yet, this novel does the same thing. From the first page, you know the conflict, the characters and a hint at the ending all at once. After the third page, I was excited to know the end. It was a page turner, which forced me to either stay up late at night or throw the book on the floor, to make myself go to sleep. This book will haunt you for months after you have put it down.
Adichie does an excellent job at fleshing out her characters. She makes them real at an instant. Kambili is so shy and afraid to live that you want to take a flight to Nigeria and remove her from that mansion. JaJa is so strong and silent that you want to shake him to make him scream. Their mother, Beatrice is such a caterpillar. You wait for her to become the butterfly and I can see Father Adami's clay colored skin and brilliant smile in my mind, behind my eyes. Adichie makes these characters so likable and so real.
This book and its cover reminds me of Olympia Vernon's Eden, but it is set in Nigeria not Mississipi. Both books brilliantly tell the story of people of African descent in such a magical way that you feel power in every page. You feel this undying will that manifests the struggle of African people, their struggle to be heard, recognized and loved. Purple Hibiscus is as timeless as the sand and as beautiful as the flower it is named after.
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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.
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on January 8, 2004
I was in Barnes & Noble and was walking past the new fiction section and just happened to pick up this book. It wasn't on sale and I had never heard anything about it nor had I heard of the author. So I took a chance and decided to go ahead and pay full price (which I never do)! Suffice it to say, I have not been disappointed. This book is sooooo good. It's a slow, mystical kind of read. It's also shocking, lyrical, and very enlightening. There's one scene, when Kambili goes upstairs to the bathroom to see what her father wants with her, and I was totally caught off guard. I will be recommending this novel to all of my friends, family, and of course, my book club. For anyone who is a parent, I would definitely recommend this book. I hope to one day meet the author.
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on May 13, 2004
Adichie's "Purple Hibiscus" will join other notable first novels like "Things Fall Apart" in the canon of great African literature. It is a very good story of the stuggles within one Nigerian family, with a domineering father, a sad, submissive mother, a defiant brother, and a daughter who is torn between following her aunt or her father. I did like the aunt's perspective, but on the other hand, I don't like the insinoution that pagans are spiritually purer than Christians. I also thought that the book excused the mother a little too much for how she finally dealt the family problem.
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on October 28, 2003
I read this book in two sittings. It is a well-crafted, beautiful, and smooth. Even when dealing with the abuse and fear aimed at the protagonist and her family, "Purple Hibiscus" gave me a sense of hope - hope for Kambili and hope for more African voices to emerge with tales of the lives of everyday African people (as opposed to the war and starvation images popularized in mainstream media). My only comment is that I wish the book were longer. Kudos to Adichie for a job well done!
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on November 11, 2007
I don't seem to be able to pick a bad book lately. "Bitter is the New Black" was the last one I read and that was funny AND disturbing on so many levels. And talk about something completely different. "PURPLE HIBISCUS" is not like anything i've ever read before. It is a great story, though it is upsetting and very horrific at points, much like McCrae's "Tour of Southern Homes and Gardens" or the book "Blood Meridian." Still, give it a try. The story centers around a teenage girl who grows up under the most horrible father. She's physically abused and all this happens in Nigeria--not the most stable place in the world. So not only is life inside the home a living hell, but life on the outside is not much better. Her realization that this is not a normal life is a hard transition for her, but with all the complex political and religious struggles going on, I can't imagine how she did it. The story is very touching and you'll love the ending. This is one book you won't be able to put down.
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on December 20, 2003
The innocent child's view shown here of how culture, religion and politics meddle with a society such as modern day Nigeria. Expresses more than the eye reads in detail and complexity as culture enslaves a Nigerian perspective towards every other aspect of life. "Exposes what is yet to said or shown". A must read book.
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