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4.5 out of 5 stars
Purple Hibiscus (P.S.)
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2005
I walked into Waterstones to buy (nigerian) Helen Oyeyemis book 'Icarus Girl' and saw this. I had no idea what it was about when I bought it - but am I glad I did!
Ngozi Adichie wrote this when she was 'longing for home'. She was experiencing a cold harsh winter in America where she gazed outside her window and saw nothing but a blanket of snow. Living as a Nigerian in the UK, I indentify with that feeling, with 'longing for home'. Reading this book felt like going home.
The story is about Kambili, an ibo teenager in eastern nigeria and is set against the backdrop of century-long nigerian 'issues' - religion (catholicism v indigenous traditions), politics (military dictatorships and a sycophantic society vs truth, freedom and democracy), child abuse, teenage experiences, family, wealth, lack, love and loyalty. It'll take you back, make you squirm, make you cry if like me, you've experienced some of these issues.
if you havent, by reading it, you'll get a much clearer exposition of modern day nigeria and africa than any 'bbc tv documentary' will ever show you.
read this!
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62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
Read by our bookclub, this book produced enthusiastic reviews.

Teenage Kambili tells her story. Gradually we begin to see the cracks in a family that outwardly appears prosperous and loving. The children are painfully subserviant, less than first place in school provokes serious repercussions. The mother has repeated miscarriages while the father is the village philanthropist.

After a visit to her Aunt Ifeoma and her three cousins, Kambili starts to see things as they really are; the life she thought normal starts to become frightening.

The threatening thing about the situation is the power of the church and the Catholic religion, used as an excuse to inflict terrible punishment for percieved misdemeanors. Also the power of other people's opinions and maintaining a position within the village.

It's a book that you won't want to put down, but some passages are quite distressing.
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79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
I picked this book up intending to read a few pages in just to see what I thought and actually hardly put it down again until I had finished it.
It is a fantastic insight into life in Nigeria in unsettled political times with the overarching conflict of the Catholic religion versus indigenous faiths almost subsuming everything else.
Kambili and Jaja's father is a prosperous and generous Catholic businessman respected and revered in the wider community for his support of charities yet behind closed doors he is a despotic, controlling and ultimately extremely violent man.
Helpless and seemingly powerless, the family can do nothing but tolerate Papa's violence which despite it's brutality still does nothing to affect their love for him until finally and very unexpectedly the power does shift.Adichie creates the family who have everything yet have nothing and then contrasts them powerfully with another branch of the family who seemingly have nothing yet have it all and it works.
She delineates fear superbly;the reader really feels and lives what this family are going through.There is a wonderful intermingling of local dialect within the narrative that grounds this book very firmly in Nigeria and much of the beauty and hardship of the country is clearly described in a flowing and atmospheric style.
Despite the stomach-churning physical abuse that almost moves you to tears for many reasons ,I found this an ultimately very satisfying read.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 16 August 2007
Purple Hibiscus is a beautiful story. The plot is based on a 14 year-old who grew up under the stifling patronage of a stern father. Her domineering father frequently physically abused his family alongside her, creating terror at home and stunting the psychological growth of his children. Against the backdrop of the deterioration of the socio-economic and political life of Nigeria as it undergoes a military coup, the life Kambili knows is shattered and she has to seek for refuge in the home of her aunt. Kambili the sheltered but highly restricted child, who never thought of herself as lucky and who had earlier been absconded by her peers and cousin because of her supposedly privileges, learns to assert herself and becomes a beloved character, a character who easily understood the plight of those around her.. Kambili at first came to terms with her father as someone who regarded himself as a pillar of the community and someone she genuinely loved. Even the emotional and physical pains he inflicted are seen only as a gesture of love for her own good, but later she comes to consider his actions as abnormal. With its vivid portrayal of Nigerian life, and brilliant dissection of the characters , this novel moves at a pace which is electrifying.Also recommended:HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, THE USURPER AND OTHER STORIES,that I enjoyed this summer.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 February 2008
I found this an extraordinarily gripping novel. It is set in the Igbo area of Nigeria, and the story is told by Kambili, 15 years old for most of it, who, with her 17 year old brother Jaja grows up in a Catholic family utterly in the thrall of their father Eugene, a prosperous factory owner who maintains a large clientele with hand-outs of money. In a note about the novel, the author writes that she had wanted to portray him as `a man who did horrible things but who, ultimately, wasn't a monster.' Personally, I can see very little to redeem him: he is a terrifying monster, a fanatical convert to Catholicism who is driven to paroxysms of physical cruelty whenever he feels crossed and during which he inflicts the most grievous bodily harm on his wife and on his children. The children suffer when they fail to come first in school, but especially whenever they fall short in the slightest respect of his extreme religious demands. True, he weeps and hugs them afterwards, claiming that he had done it only to save their souls, but since he assaults his wife without any such excuse, he is simply a pathologically violent character. Kambili grows up a frightened and timid girl, dreading her father but at the same time longing for his love and approval. Jaja is more defiant, and the development of his character is also among the book's superb qualities.

He refuses any contact with his own father, Papa-Nngukwu, who had not converted to Catholicism, and he never allows him into his palatial house in Enugu. Papa-Nngukwu, serene in his own beliefs, lives in great but dignified poverty in the nearby town of Nsukka, not far from his daughter Ifeoma, who has an ill-paid job at the university there and three children of her own. Eugene allows his children to meet their grandfather for exactly a quarter of an hour once a year, and he is reluctant to allow his children to visit their aunt, considering her not a good enough Catholic because she remains fond her `heathen' father; and he is enraged if during such visits his children meet their grandfather. Ifeoma is a wonderful strong woman, and the children love their visits to her, to her relaxed household in her run-down home, and they come to love their grandfather also. After Eugene had carried out a near-fatal assault on Kambili, his children are effectively taken into Ifeomo's care.

Throughout the novel there has also been a political background. A military coup has just taken place (presumably the coup of 1985). Paradoxically the autocratic Eugene owns a newspaper which supports democracy against the military dictatorship, and Ifeoma, too, is an outspoken critic of the new regime. They are therefore both in danger from the brutal soldiery.

I must not reveal the end of the story; but it is as powerful as the rest of the book. The whole book is suffused with the atmosphere of Nigeria, its customs, its weather, its plants and its food stuffs, its clothes, and even its language. A glossary at the end of the Igbo words used would have been helpful, but we can guess the meaning of many of the expressions.
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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2006
I can't remember the last time I read a book and could not put it down. The characters are absorbing, the story harrowing and unpredictable. The portrait of Nigeria is so detailed and accurate yet challenging in the way it celebrates both its good and bad parts. The descriptions of abuse are difficult to read but add to story's impact in the correct way; they are added not to make the story appealing but real in a way that is difficult to describe. A truly excellent book that wasn't what I expected at all.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2004
Purple Hibiscus is an evocative and beautifully written novel. Kambili the narrator, tells a story of a privileged childhood in Nigeria but overshadowed by a domestic violence which mirrors the violence of politics. Through getting to know her aunt and cousins (who live in much less favourable circumstances) Kambili comes to understand what normal family relationships are - love, laughter, intelligent discussion, outbursts of temper. These are things which, despite a loving mother and brother, Kambili had never experienced due to her fanatically religious father who ruled his family with an iron rod - and violence. Fortunately the narrator does see another side of the Church in the charming and perceptive Fr. Amadi. The novel comes to a very unexpected conclusion.
The writing is extraordinarily mature and beautifully understated. I do hope Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will be inspired to write further novels and congratulate her on this wonderful first book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
If Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie continues to write books of this standard, she will surely become one of the world's best loved authors. It's hard to believe 'Purple Hibiscus' is a first novel, it is so well executed. It is set in Nigeria, but is quite different from Adichie's second (equally good) novel.

Written in the first person, the narrator is Kambili, a teenage girl from a wealthy family whose father is a fanatical Catholic. Conspicuously pious and generous in the community, and champion of free speech under the military dictatorship, he is an abusive tyrant at home and his family live in fear of failing to meet his impossibly high standards. When Kambili and her brother spend time with their aunty and her poor but happy family, they begin to question their upbringing, with dramatic consequences.

Kambili is a lovable character, painfully shy and tongue tied, desperate to reach out to those around her but unable to do so. Her narration hits just the right note. The other characters are also well drawn. Kambili's father is a particularly interesting character, and the author does a good job of showing the two contradictory sides of his persona. Whilst I hated him for his behaviour at times, at others I could feel (almost but not quite) sympathy for him and his apparent guilt. He was not a cartoon evil 'bad guy', but neither was he the equally stereotypical misunderstood bad guy. But unlike many stories of domestic abuse, I felt this really showed his motivation and his complex feelings over what he did, without ever excusing it.

The book offers a view of life in Nigeria during recent times, and is good at evoking place and time. I could 'see' all of the settings in my mind's eye. The work describes the two sides of life in this country and makes a good job of showing a snapshot of a complex and fraught situation, although this is a story very much about growing up. It was also refreshing to be reminded that religious extremism can be found in all religions. Various issues around religion are covered, yet it never becomes a book 'about' religion. The character of Father Amadi, a good hearted priest, ensures that religion is given a balanced showing.

Despite its themes of religion and it's background of a country in turmoil, the essence of the story is about Kambili's own personal journey, and this is what you care most about when reading. The great thing about the book is that it can tackle big issues entirely through the story of just one ordinary girl. It's gripping and a joy to read from page one.

Very highly recommended.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2005
Purple Hibiscus is a beautiful story. The plot is based on a 14 year-old who grew up under the stifling patronage of a stern father. Her domineering father frequently physically abused his family alongside her, creating terror at home and stunting the psychological growth of his children. Against the backdrop of the deterioration of the socio-economic and political life of Nigeria as it undergoes a military coup, the life Kambili knows is shattered and she has to seek for refuge in the home of her aunt. Kambili the sheltered but highly restricted child, who never thought of herself as lucky and who had earlier been absconded by her peers and cousin because of her supposedly privileges, learns to assert herself and becomes a beloved character, a character who easily understood the plight of those around her.. Kambili at first came to terms with her father as someone who regarded himself as a pillar of the community and someone she genuinely loved. Even the emotional and physical pains he inflicted are seen only as a gesture of love for her own good, but later she comes to consider his actions as abnormal. With its vivid portrayal of Nigerian life, and brilliant dissection of the characters , this novel moves at a pace which is electrifying.Also recommended:TRIPLE AGENT DOUBLE CROSS, DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE,GRACELAND, THE USURPER AND OTHER STORIES
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2006
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a precocious talent. Purple Hibiscus is a tale of sexual and politcal awakening in contemporary Nigeria. Its narrator, Kambili - like her country itself - is undergoing a huge transformation as she breaks away from her abusive, puritanical father, a wealthy philanthropist in the community but a violent hypocrit at home. Introverted and repressed, she learns to express herself in the company of her poorer but more open and spirited cousins, and her inspiring aunt, a University lecturer. This is set against the backdrop of corruption and political assasinations, which menace Kambili's father as the owner of a leftwing newspaper openly criticising the government. Strangely, her father's righteousness in combating Nigeria's nafarious politicans is not extended to his parochial homelife, nor to his dying traditionalist father, exiled from their family home for being a 'heathen'. Kambili comes to favour the hand-to-mouth existence of her Aunt's household over the relative luxury of her own family home as she comes to terms with the injustice of her father's abuse and her own sexual awakenings, provoked by the charming young priest Father Armadi. It is a classic mould for fiction with comfortbaly universal themes. But the writing is highly evocative, with the young author able to conjur a rich and tangible vision of Nigerian life with mature and precise prose. Neither showy nor self-consciously economic, Adichie is a rare and exciting talent.
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