In Purple Hibiscus we follow Kambili, a 15-year-old Nigerian girl, who seemingly lives a luxurious life with her father, mother and brother Jaja. A heavy veil of silence hangs over them but a series of events sends them all toward a path of no return where the silence will finally be broken.
At the background of the story there’s unrest in Nigeria and a military coup taking place, but the book’s focus is on Kambili’s family. Kambili’s father has embraced the new ideals of Christianity fanatically and runs his household with a strict hand, expecting nothing less than perfection from his children who have everything God could give them. Kambili looks up to her father, searching for his approval, but her confusion is obvious throughout the book. You can feel her struggling with what she wants to say and what she actually ends up saying.
Life in the big mansion comes with schedules and rules, but a visit to Aunt Ifeoma’s house introduces Kambili and Jaja to a whole new world: a world of laughter and warmth. This new world sparks something inside Kambili and that spark ignites when she meets Father Amadi, a young priest who takes an interest in her as well. Soon it’ll be too late to stop the silence from breaking but what lies underneath is far from pretty, and could change all their lives forever.
I was left breathless by this book. The world and characters all feel so alive despite their struggles that I was immediately pulled in by the narration. Some parts of the story made me cringe but not because they were poorly written — on the contrary. There’s oppression and violence, and you’re standing right there with the characters, watching from the side as they live their lives.
I’d recommend this book but it does have darker themes in it. It’s not a nice, cozy journey to Nigeria, but at its heart it has moments full of warmth and hope. At its heart it tells about a girl who can finally laugh.