Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Extent: 307 pages
Price: Ksh. 1,050
Reviewer: Rumona Apiyo
Available at Prestige Bookshop and Magunga Online Book Store
A week in Nigeria
Have you ever read a book and when you are done you feel like an emotional turmoil has happened to you? (Which one?) Worse still, everyone around you seems to be going on with their ‘sooo perfect’ lives as if nothing happened to you? Because life has to continue after the last page, you tell yourself haidhuru and move on to your next book. Exactly how I felt after I finished reading The Purple Hibiscus four months ago.
I travelled all the way to Nnsuka, Nigeria. I became the invisible family member of Eugene Achike’s household. I immediately spot Kambili, my favourite character. The fifteen – year – old girl is a bright pupil at school but just like Jaja her elder brother, has no social life. They seem to have an excellent life. A figured out life; a shallow thought that with money, one has a perfect life. Eugene, Kambili and Jaja’s father, is not only an authoritarian but also a strict adherent of the catholic church. Any attempt by any family member to disobey his high set standards is met with a thorough punishment. This includes his wife, Beatrice Achike. To Eugene, that is his display of love.
I love the irony in which the novel starts in. It is Palm Sunday when Jaja rebels. It is not as if he doesn’t know the consequences of his decision. His father throws a book at him only for it to hit Mama’s favorite figurines. This marks the beginning of the conflict in the story.
Eugene (papa), is one prominent man who owns a number of factories in Enugu as well as runs a publishing house that publishes a pro-democracy Standard Newspaper. In and out of the church, Eugene is highly regarded and praised for his good works. He fights rampant corruption by the government that is being run by the military after a coup via his newspaper. This results in the arrest of his Editor, Ade Coker. However, Eugene’s bravery buys him freedom.
Motivated by fear, Kambili, meekly follows his father’s set schedule for them: studying, eating, sleeping, praying and sitting with family. A quiet girl, Kambili is said to be a snob at school.
Every Christmas, the Achike’s visit Abba – their ancestral home. They organize a very big feast for the umunna as well as the villagers. Again, Papa (Eugene) is well celebrated for the kind of generosity he bestows on his people. Nevertheless, Jaja and Kambili are forbidden from visiting their grandfather Papa-Nnukwu, a “heathen” follows traditional religion of worshipping gods. Clearly, Eugene cannot risk exposing his ‘loved’ ones to ‘evil’. Almost as a punishment for not being a Christian, Papa-Nnukwu languishes in poverty as his son dishes out nairas to other people.
Eugene’s’ sister, Aunty Ifeoma talks her brother into hosting Jaja and Kambili at her place. Papa begrudgingly agrees.
When they get to Nsukka, they experience a whole different world; Fuel shortage, medic’s strikes, dry taps, constant power shortage and expensive commodities. Aunty Ifeoma is a single mother raising her three children on a meagre salary as a university don. But in this house, there is laughter and happiness. Aunty Ifeoma has given her three children Obiora, Chima and Amaka the freedom to question things before they can actually accept them as truths. Just like the classmates of Kambili, Amaka assumes that her cousin is a snob. Unlike Jaja who blossoms and quickly adapts to helping around with house chores, Kambili retreats to silence. But soon enough, Jaja and Kambili’s lives are to be shaken along with the political landscape. Find out how. 🙂
As the story goes on, the reader realizes that this is one book every African ought to read. Auntie Uju (Chimamanda Ngozi) is, indeed, a great story teller.
Quotes from the book
‘When a house is on fire, you run out before the roof collapses on your head.’
Rain splashed across the floor of the veranda, even though the sun blazed and I had to narrow my eyes to look out the door of Aunty Ifeoma’s living room. Mama used to tell Jaja and me that God was undecided about what to send, rain or sun. We would sit in our rooms and look out at the raindrops glinting with sunlight, waiting for God to decide.
“We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.”
“Morality, as well as the sense of taste, is relative.’
‘Of course God does. Look at what He did to his faithful servant Job, even to His own Son. But have you ever wondered why? Why did He have to murder his own son so we would be saved? Why didn’t he just go ahead and save us?’
Rumona Apiyo blogs at https://talesofrumona.wordpress.com
Photo credit @KambuaMuziki