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Purple Hibiscus

The conflict between religion and tradition is an often-told story, yet Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (known for award-winning novel Half of a Yellow Sun) makes this conflict interesting and fresh, as the subject of her debut novel, hailed as "one of the best novels to come out of Africa in years." Purple Hibiscus is the tale of 15-year-old Kambili. Kambili and her brother have grown up under her repressive and fanatically religious Catholic father, Eugene, who has subjected his family to both physical and emotional pain. While the conflict between religion and tradition is skillfully interwoven throughout the novel, Adichie also focuses on Kambili's coming of age journey, struggling to balance what her father has taught her and what her aunt and cousins are attempting to show her. When a military coup destabilizes the country, Kambili and Jaja, her brother, go to live with their Aunt for a few weeks. There, Kambili begins to understand that life doesn't revolve around money, social status, and religion, but family, education for the sake of learning, not being the best, and other values that her father has looked down upon. The language in the novel is very potent, highlighting the Nigerian landscape and Kambili's reactions. When Kambili returns home after living with her Aunt for some time, she writes, "I wanted to tell Mama that it did feel different to be back, that our living room had too much empty space..." (192). She reminds me of a quote from, surprisingly, the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, "It's a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realized what's changed, is you." I think this is definitely applicable to Kambili in the sense that after realizing that her father's way of life is not necessarily the one she wants to have, she begins to truly find herself. Overall, I think this was a fairly easy read dealing with difficult material - domestic violence, the struggle "between the old gods and the new." If you enjoy reading Purple Hibiscus, I also highly recommend The Thing Around Your Neck, Adichie's most recent novel. It's a collection of 12 short stories about Nigerian families in America and Nigeria. Rating: ★★★★

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