“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity” (Adichie)
Purple Hibiscus tell the story of Kimbali, a 14 year old in post-colonial Nigeria. Her father is a ‘Big Man,’ a man who is incredibly wealthy. Her father is a devout, fanatical Catholic. Her mother is humble, timid woman, who “speaks the way a bird eats.” Her father subjects Kimbali, her older brother, and her mother to intense physical, and emotional abuse. The novel traces the slow disintegration of Kimbali’s family unit amid the political turmoil in Nigeria in the 1990s.
Purple Hibiscus is set largely in Nsuakka, where Adichie grew up. Both of Adichie’s parents worked and taught at the University of Nigeria, where, in the novel, Kimbali’s aunt is a lecturer. The University of Nigeria was the first autonomous and indigenous university in the country, established in 1955. Nsukka, an intellectual haven that vies for democracy and social rights, becomes a safe place for Kimbali, a place of both peace and growth.
I was thrilled to see Adichie on our reading list. Her novel Half of a Yellow Sun remains one of my favourite books, ever. I wouldn’t call Half of a Yellow Sun YA reading by any stretch though, so I was surprised that Adichie had written a YA novel. Although a teenager narrates Purple Hibiscus, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book to all young adult readers. The novel delves into very intense issues: colonialism, religious fanaticism, immigration, and domestic abuse. Adichie handles the more graphic senses delicately, but the portrayal is still deeply disturbing.
What is amazing about Adichie’s work is the way that she makes the country come alive. Colours, sounds, smells, textures are vivid and real. She makes the Nigeria of her childhood come alive in brilliant colour. And true to her words (at the top of this post), she displays characters who have grace, dignity, and beautifully human flaws.
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TED Talk. July 2009. 18 minutes. Web.