Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: Purple Hibiscus

Author: Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
Pages: 307
Genre: Historical Fiction
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Version: Hardcover
Publication Date: October 2003
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Source: Local Public Library

Synopsis (GoodReads):

From the outside, fifteen-year-old Kambili has the perfect life. She lives in a beautiful house, has a caring family, and attends an exclusive missionary school. She's completely shielded from the troubles of the world. Yet, as Kambili reveals in her tender-voiced account, things are less than perfect in her wealthy Nigerian home. Although her papa is generous and well respected, he is fanatically religious and tyrannical at home. He looms over his family's every move, severely punishes Kambili and her older brother, Jaja, if they're not the best in their classes, and hits their mama if she disagrees with him. Home is silent and suffocating.

But everything changes once Kambili and Jaja visit Aunty Ifeoma outside the city. For the first time they experience freedom from their papa. Jaja learns to garden and work with his hands, and Kambili secretly falls in love with a young, charismatic priest.

As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, tension within the family escalates. And shy Kambili must find the strength to keep her family together after her mother commits a desperate act.

Purple Hibiscus is a stunning debut that captures the fragile beauty of a young woman's awakening at a time when both country and family are on the cusp of change.


Plot: B

Purple Hibiscus is a character drive novel set in the backdrop of political unrest in Nigeria.  It's the kind of novel that I tend to lends towards.  Kambili and her family and the relationship to each other are complex, puzzling and frightening all at the same time.   The bulk of the story deals with how Kambili, Jaja and their mother have been isolated and repressed by  their father and his "strong" religious beliefs.  How his immersion into the Catholic faith denominated every aspect of his life, even at the cost of his relationship with his father who believes in the traditions and faith of their tribe.

While I love the character building in Purple Hibiscus the story was very slow to stop.  The bulk of the novel is exploring the relationship between the family members and the coming of age of Kambili and Jaja.  When the action finally takes place it seems rushed and sudden.  Almost like the author ran out of space and realized that she had to wrap it up.  I wish she would have spent as much time developing the action part of the plot as she did the characters.

Characters: A+

My review of the characters is going to be short and seem somewhat inadequate.  That's because I have nothing really to say about other then that they were very well done.  They fit perfectly in the story.  There motives were clear and never did I think "why is she doing that?"  I understood, everything that they did, partially because their background was thoroughly explored but also because there was so much time spent on character building.


Adichie writing was good enough not to make me notice all that much that the story was kind of slow.  I was able to keep reading for longs periods of time and actually didn't want to put the novel down because I wanted to see were it was going.

I enjoyed how she mixed Iboya words and did it in such a way that the reader was able to understand their basic meaning without feeling lost.  She also made the physical environment of Nigeria come alive and I could "see" some of the places that the characters visited.

Explanation of Rating:   

Purple Hibiscus gets and A- because the beginning was slow and the ending was too fast.  All the time spent exploring characters and back stories left little space for a fulling ending.  I finished Purple Hibiscus wishing that  Adichie had spent as much time on the ending as she did on the rest of the story.

Final Grade: A-

Overall Recommendation:

I would recommend Purple Hibiscus to anyone that enjoys strong character driven novels.


  1. I agree, it is easy to feel like you're there while reading this book. I enjoyed it as well.

    I also bought Half of a Yellow Sun and I'm trying to determine if it will be my next read. She is coming to town soon to promote her third novel, Americana. I'll try to make it to the signing.

    1. There are very few good author signings down here and when there are I always miss them. Good luck.

  2. I've been thinking of reading this book after loving Half of a Yellow Sun so much last year. Thanks for your thoughts!