Purple Hibiscus is another book by a prize-winning author; it was short-listed for the Orange Prize for fiction in 2004 and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, won the Orange Prize in 2007.

Purple Hibiscus is set in Adichie’s home country of Nigeria, during the period of Civil War, and its heroine is 15 year old Kambili. It is essentially the story of her growing into woman-hood. She has to deal with many difficult and conflicting ideals and values: the ancient traditions and culture of Nigeria, versus the rigid and repressive Christianity of her father; her father’s public generosity and kindness, versus the physical cruelty and restricted intellectual freedom he imposes on his family at home; her own first stirrings of sexuality and love versus the piety and celibacy of the young priest she falls for.

As political events beyond his control loosen her father’s grip on his increasingly rebellious children, they discover a new freedom at their aunt’s house; a new way of demonstrating love, respect and piety. This of course has dramatic ramifications for Kambili’s perception of her world, her family, her religion and herself.

Adichie writes beautifully and hauntingly as she delicately makes us aware of the subtle complexities of the issues she is dealing with. Her passion for Nigeria is also clear in the vivacity with which she so vividly portrays its people and their society. Her other great skill is to give you some insight into all the main characters’ motivations: it is clear that our sympathies should lie with Kambili, but she does not allow us to hate her father unreservedly. Instead she reminds us that peoples’ thoughts and actions are not black and white, and provides us with some understanding as to why Kambili’s father is the way he is, without exonerating or condemning him completely.

Adichie names Chinua Achebe as one of her major influences, and subtly references him in the opening line of the novel: ‘Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the etagere.’ He is of course one of the most internationally acclaimed Nigerian writers, so his influence is not surprising, but it is clear that in Adichie’s case Achebe has been a role model and an inspiration in a very profound way. Adichie has said ‘Reading Achebe gave me permission to write about my world. He transported me to a past tht was both familiar and unfamiliar, a past I imagined my great grandfather lived. Looking back, I realise that what he did for me at the time was validate my history, make it seem worthy in some way.’ So it is no surprise that she considers the moment she received an email from Achebe’s son, saying his father had read Purple Hibiscus and liked it very much, as the best moment of her career to date.

I admit I have not read Achebe yet, but after Purple Hibiscus both Things Fall Apart and Half of a Yellow Sun are in the pile of ‘to read’ books on my bedside table!

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