By Julie Amoss
The book Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is beautiful, heartbreaking, and a perfect pick for 2017’s One Maryland One book. It was chosen out of more than one hundred and twenty other books for the 2017 theme of home and belonging, and Purple Hibiscus elegantly shows that theme in a captivating coming-of-age novel that is wonderful to read.
Although it is a bit slow and meandering at first, the more one reads, the harder it becomes to escape the story’s clutches. The language is beautiful and descriptive without being overly flowery, and it’s not hard to immerse oneself in the fascinating Nigerian setting. As described by Courtney Parks, a sophomore, the book is “Enlightening, [and] it shows a type of life [that is] important to understand.” The world of Nigeria is vastly different from that of America, yet it is still incredibly important to see and understand places outside of America to better comprehend the world. The characters in this book are vastly different from average Americans, but that makes it no harder to relate to them. They share the same hopes, emotions, and dreams that everyone does, and it’s almost painfully easy to relate to and understand them. Anyone can fall in love with Purple Hibiscus with just a few pages of reading.
The narrator and protagonist, Kambili Achike, is a fifteen-year-old girl in a rich and influential family. She is shy and has trouble making friends due to her timidness and a stutter she is ashamed of; however, her peers mistake her unsociability as arrogance. She lives with an abusive, overly religious father who holds her to the highest standard of achievement at all times, and she is not allowed to question him or speak out in any manner. Her brother and mother are held to a similarly cruel regime, and her mother has had several miscarriages due to her husband’s physical abuse, which is seen through a heartbreakingly apathetic perspective that highlights how awful it is. That indifference, however, sometimes distances the reader from it by giving the events an almost surreal quality.
It’s only when she is allowed to visit her Aunty Ifeoma and is exposed to a life quite literally the opposite of her own that Kambili begins to break out of her shell. In Aunty Ifeoma’s house, laughter and questions ring out almost constantly, and the family’s poverty does nothing to dampen their spirits. The contrast feels a little unrealistic at first, given how different it is from Kambili’s home life; however, after a while that disparity seems less improbable and instead acts as a wonderful contrasting element in the story. The plot is slow and fulfilling, and major, important events are surrounded by smaller -but precious and equally important- examples of beauty that help offset the tragedy perfectly.
The book’s descriptions are vivid and gorgeously detailed, yet the addition of cultural words and terms can be confusion to a reader without the assistance of outside resources. Words in Igbo, a secondary language used by most characters in the book, frequently appear in dialogue, and their meanings can be hard to decipher with just context clues. The reader should be prepared the look up words semi frequently, or be okay with not comprehending all of the story’s dialogue.
Most of the major plot events only occur later on in the book, and when the action picks up it’s impossible to put down. The twist ending is completely unexpected, and for Adichie’s first book, it is a masterful story. The many awards the novel has received, such as the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, show that many critics agree with this sentiment.
All in all, Purple Hibiscus is a magical tale of love, family, and growing up, and it is entirely worth the read.