Chimamanda Adichie is widely recognized as one of Africa’s foremost modern writers. Purple Hibiscus, her debut novel scooped several awards including the 2005 Commonwealth Writer’s Award for “Best First Book.” It launched her career as an international writer, and has been described as “a thoroughly engaging and exquisitely crafted piece of work.”
Set in Nigeria, the story, told in first person, is about a fifteen year old girl, Kambili and the events that impact her world, and change her life.
To outsiders, Kambili is supposedly living the good life in Enugu, Nigeria, where she stays with her mother, Beatrice, her seventeen-year-old brother Chukwuka “Jaja” Achike, and their wealthy father, Eugene Achike. In truth, her life is made hell by an overly strict and fanatically religious father. While well respected and active in the community, Achike is a tyrant in his home. A human rights activist recognized by Amnesty World and a generous contributor to church causes, he is a monster at home who demands servile obedience and subjects his wife and children to beatings and psychological cruelty.
When the chance comes up to leave home and go spend time with their aunt, Eugene’s sister in the town of Nsukka, the children are mightily relieved to get away. A change in government due to a military coup forces Achike to send Kambili and Jaja to stay with their aunt, a University professor.
In contrast to their home, Aunt Ifeoma’s house is filled with noise and laughter, allowing the children to come out of their shells and express themselves. What unfolds is a series of events that change life for all the main characters.
In a sign of her emotional development, Kambili falls in love with a young priest, Father Amadi. Unfortunately, nothing can come out of this situation because Amadi makes it clear he will not quit the Church.
Life in the Achike household takes a twist, when Beatrice tired of her husband’s physical and mental abuse, decides to poison him. Jaja takes blame for the crime to save his mother, and he ends up in prison. At the end of the novel, the family having gone through lots of upheavals tries to pick up the pieces.
Through her characters, Adichie explores a number of themes, including the fact that wealth does not equal happiness and the dangers of religious fanaticism.