“I wanted to tell Mama that it did feel different to be back, that our living room had too much empty space, too much wasted marble floor that gleamed from Sisi’s polishing and housed nothing. Our celing was too high. Our furniture was lifeless: the glass tables did not shed twisted skin in the harmattan, the leather sofas’ greeting was a clammy coldness, and the Persian rugs were too lush to have any feeling. But I said, “You polished the etagere.” "
The above text appears when Jaja and Kambili return from Nsukku, their Aunty Ifeoma’s house, and witness their place as dull and lacking warmth even though the house glistened like a palace. The warmth that Aunty Ifeoma’s house had carried during the days they spent despite having a nondescript house and where they prayed every day for Peace and Laughter. Laughter among all the things. Because Laughter was valued in their house everyday despite living with shortcomings something that Kambili hardly got to experience in own house in front of her father. Father – a devout Catholic who is a strict disciplinarian and feared authoritarian yet extremely generous towards the community. Aunty Ifeoma’s house had blessed quiet even in those noisy moments and where they did not follow any schedule or have such paper stuck in the walls of the room unlike in those high walls of their own house where schedule mocked their father Eugene’s stoned face.
Chimamanda Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus is a tale of abuse, hope and survival thereby letting the freedom conquer. Reading this novel took me to a different universe. One part of me was living in that universe with Kambili, Jaja and their fearless Aunt and cousins who had a voice. I will stress voice because it was harshly snatched from Kambili and Jaja. After finishing the novel, I felt I have lived one whole lifetime with all the characters yet there stays so much unsaid and so much to be understood. I could still feel Kambili’s observant eyes tracing my actions and asking me to be very careful with what I write. The author has completely lived each scene and experience which is very well exhibited in her body of work.
I lived each scene when I read those phrases and everytime I wondered what it would be to live like Kambili. She is all of 15 but she has so much wisdom, so much clarity of thought, and so much depth and detail beyond her age. All through my journey with this book, I wanted to shake her and ask her to cry. Cry because she should or needed to let all her emotions out and it is no point tugging her heart so much to shield those emotions away from the light. I wanted to hug her and say that it is going to be alright. I just wanted a moment with Kambili. Those observant eyes have so much depth that they meander between right and wrong. For instance when she says, “Father Amadi led the first decade, and at the end, he started an Igbo praise song. While they sang, I opened my eyes and stared at the wall. I pressed my lips together, biting my lower lip, so my mouth would not join in the singing on its own, so my mouth would not betray” It was shocking to read how the power and control of mere 15 year old on her tongue and her freedom to express were snatched away. Kambili’s eyes! Even though they failed to understand few things because she was in the cusp of womanhood, at times, she understood most of the things without uttering a single word.
Jaja –A character’s name which means throaty laughter in Spanish, gave me an insight of ‘Now’. The power of now. Heaven breaks apart when he refuses to go to communion, a usual ritual at home, bringing his father’s blood to boil in fury. Even though there were so many unpleasant things back at home, he enjoyed being out there in the frontyard of Aunty Ifeoma’s house asking questions about Hibiscuses. He was out there with Obiora with those buckets of water, and when the time came he remarked that he did not do so much like Obiora who acted like a man and held the roof above his house in the absence of Obiora’s father. And when Jaja covered up for his mother and stood for her when the authorities came, it could be felt that how much Jaja thought about his family. His words hit the nail when he asks after the demise of his father – Why didn’t the god protect his faithful servant? Jaja, a caring brother, a loving son and a man of the house and without whom, this piece would have been less important and the purple hibiscus would have lost its person. That Purple Hibiscus means freedom in connection with Jaja.
Tensions rise in the Achike house throughout the day, and the political instability as Nigeria falls under the military coup, go on like tidal waves, but Kambili, through her narration, tells a tale of hope and exhibits that this too shall pass and we need to move to the brighter side of the world when time calls. Aunty Ifeoma’s house, the visuals surrounding the vicinity of her house, the peace that her house exuded definitely will make one cry out with joy. Only because as the story unfurls, you would have shed huge amounts of tears and felt for Kambili and Jaja, and because you want them to have their own taste of freedom which has been monitored and circumscribed by high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound.
The book opens with the events on Palm Sunday, time travelling to past and final chapter leading to present. The political unrest in Nigeria is clearly visible and the author brings it to life, all in front of the reader. The unrest in Kambili’s family in terms of Igbo rituals and rigid catholic thoughts continues as the story unfolds.
Read if you think it is going to be depressing. Read if you think it is dark fiction. Read for those very reasons because this is not like any other dark stories that leave you staring at the wall looking for a gleam of light but it is unlike those all stories put together. It is far from dark and brooding unlike those stories. Unlike I say because it sparks hope even in those moments of angst and depressive circumstances, the hope which lurks even in the darkest corners. And that hope balances out everything.
I could feel hope when Jaja shifted the desk to be in front of his door in order to keep his father out of his way. I could feel hope when Kambili did not move but held the painting of her late grandfather Papa Nnukwu when a monster disguised as her father kept hitting and bashing her wildly. I could feel it in those moments when Kambili’s father in his usual beastian way almost broke the figurines and how her mom collected all those precious pieces after the fallout. I could feel hope in Aunty Ifeoma’s house even if there was no fuel in her vehicle, no electric supply, only okpa soup to eat for breakfast. I could feel hope when Father Amadi tells Kambili that she has long legs and she should run. So much of hope lingers even after the taste of oppression beats the energy out of you. Even in the tension and turmoil, a soft feather of unexplained love caresses Kambili and Father Amadi making the former reach out to taste the desire of teen age as well as that of womanhood. Though this soft caress appears in every alternate page in the middle of the novel and keeps the curious reader wanting more of it, the author did not give it a cliffhanger ending but weaves the tale of hearts thoughtfully.
Purple Hibiscus if put in musical sense, it plays Raag Hindol which is a midnight Raag. When you listen to Hindol, it mirrors the state of our mind when we ponder about so many thoughts at the dark of the night, thinking deeply into some of the matters unsaid or unexpressed and suddenly the yawning night reaches out to its crib with a new day waking up to the ray of sunshine or a ray of hope to make you believe that some matters might take their own time to settle and resolve. Such is the effect that this book will produce in your heart. You will find Hindol caressing the pages of this book when you read.
I really loved it for a reason that the story doesn’t unfold with multiple voices but honestly stuck to Kambili's voice along with the shifting perspectives between two households which are distinct from one another. Adichie knows the craft of writing extremely well. Would Highly recommend. This book will surely make one experiment more African writings.
My Rating *****