Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Purple Hibiscus

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Thomas Allen & Son 2003

"That's a hibiscus, isn't it, Aunty?" Jaja asked, staring at a plant close to the barbed wire fencing. "I didn't know there were purple hibiscuses."

This is a harsh story, almost unbearable at first, but beautifully written.

Fifteen-year-old Kambili and her brother, Jaja, are brought up by an overly strict father in a wealthy Nigerian household. They and their mother are physically abused. Both children live in terror of not achieving the “best-in-class” on school exams because they know the beatings that will follow. There are other forms of torture and cruelty that I won’t describe here.

As things fell apart in the family, the children were allowed to go stay with their aunt in a nearby city. The Aunt and her family were a loving counterpoint to the father's repressive violence. While the children were with the aunt, Jaja was able to explore gardening. He was the one that planted the purple hibiscus in his family's yard when they returned home.

I can't explain why I kept reading this book … it was so unbearably cruel, but I kept coming back to it time and again. I didn't take it back to the library. It was in my book bag to be returned, but it kept calling to me. I'd pull it out and read some more. The purple hibiscus flowers kept turning up, rather like a beacon of hope.

Eventually, I was glad I finished the book because there are some more positive experiences with her Aunt and family and friends, and with her grandfather.