If you have not read the book Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie, then stop here. Read no further. Only when you’ve read that timeless classic shall you understand and perhaps enjoy my memories from the book which I want to share.
So, in no particular order, here are my 8 unforgettable memories from Purple Hibiscus…
- Eugene Achike’s hardheaded fanaticism: The Patriarch and the character who loomed larger than the whole story, largely due to the fact that we saw the coming of age story through the eyes of his quiet, brooding daughter who looked up to him in no small way. A bastion of mind-numbing religiosity and near-impossible perfection, he delighted in making and keeping up appearances as a righteous man incapable of doing any wrong, while he was a behemoth monster on the home front, hitting his wife and children at will, even to the extent of beating his pregnant wife to the point where she lost her baby.
Worse still, beating Jaja till his finger on the left hand got gnarled because he failed two questions at catechism class and did not emerge the best was crazy. I’m going to try to forget that he beat Kambili till she passed out because she kept a painting of Papa Nnukwu.
His character reminds me in no small way of the many fathers whom I grew up seeing around me: Men who were obsessed with looking good in the eyes of the immediate community and being given sobriquets denoting benevolence, like Omelora, the One Who Does for the Community, but who cannot take care of their own kith and kin.
Here’s to hoping that all the Eugene Achikes of this world see this (or something related elsewhere) and change their ways.
- Kambili’s mind and Evolution : Oh Lord! The beautifully descriptive, at times sorrowfully brooding landmine infested field that is Kambili’s mind swallows the reader whole from the first page until the last. More remarkable is her evolution from the shy girl we first meet to the girl who learns how to express herself with help from Aunty Ifeoma’s family, to falling in love with you-know-who, to finally blossoming into a full young woman expressing her thoughts without any semblance of shame or self-doubt. It is a refreshing journey which reminds us of the fact that change is the most permanent thing when it comes to human behavior, growth and development. The way Adichie describes and romanticizes the little part of Nsukka where she discovers herself is miles above par, second only to her perspective on perhaps the first man she ever fell in love with.
- Aunty Ifeoma! : The exclamation mark you see highlights how important the character was to the development of the plot. Her tall, well-proportioned frame which sauntered gracefully and her infectious energy enthralled me and made me wish I could jump into the pages of the book and make a formal introduction. She was the only person in the story who stood up to Eugene like he was a boy living next door. Well, he was a boy in her eyes, as he was her brother.
The most amazing thing is the way she ensured that her home and children retained an optimistic but realistic view on life, as she encouraged thought-provoking discussions and conversations amongst the children who were all teenagers. I feel that Adichie may have attempted to show that children need to be taught to question every belief before accepting it, as every belief which claims to be true should pass the test of plausible reasonability. I might add that the conversations they had were one of the high points of the whole story, as well as the way Aunty Ifeoma egged them on, as well as posing and answering questions when necessary.
- Papa Nnukwu’s warmth: Papa Nnukwu! The only ray of ancestral sunshine which shone through the whole story until his peacefully glorious exit. In the Africa of today wherein African spirituality is frowned upon and demonized, Papa Nnukwu is a firm answer to all that drivel. The warmth he exuded throughout the story even though he was aware of his son’s hatred for him and the ways of his ancestors was nothing short of commendable. His stories about the ways of old were refreshing to say the least; and his jokes were, y’know, funny if you understood them. His relationship with Amaka, his granddaughter, and their back and forths left me feeling warm. The highest point? His powerful prayer which was witnessed in silence by Aunty Ifeoma and Kambili. His prayer in the way of our fathers showed how justice and righteousness were the pillars of African spirituality, which has been unfairly criticized, demonized and satanized by media, movies and music all around Africa today. Well done Aunty Chimamanda!
- The Amaka vs Kambili Arc : What started as a frosty relationship between two strange cousins who were the opposite of each other, thawed over time before it blossomed into a steadying friendship, then soaring to dizzying, giddy heights of powerful sisterhood. I always laughed at the opening exchanges between the two, as loquacious Amaka tried to jest tongue-tied reticent Kambili into speaking up for herself, without success. I did feel at some point that Amaka was deeply troubled, intimidated even, by the abilities of her cousin to be silent, while on the other hand, Kambili silently desired the freedom and the terrifying speed at which words fell out through Amaka’s mouth. I nearly cried when they said their final goodbyes, the ending of something beautiful which started on a rough patch.
- Aunty Ifeoma’s Vivacious Children: The whole vivacious, happy band of children were a pleasure to follow from the Christmas in Abba when they made their first appearance, to the last time we would hear of them from Kambili in the final pages of the book. It was incredible how they held what could pass as adult conversations. They, I suspect, were the main devices through which Aunty Chimamanda sneaked through some of her standpoints on issues. Sitting proudly as the Matriarch and watching over them was Aunty Ifeoma, through whom Chimamanda showcase the strength of a woman who was proud and would not bend to pressure of any kind, raising her children alone and fending for them to the extent of moving to the United States to get a better life, like millions of the intelligentsia who moved in the time when the book was set. I was attached to them on the first read, but subsequent voyages left me dreaming of their humble domain on Marguerite Cartwright Avenue and the sounds of hearty cackling, chortling and laughter bouncing off and around the walls of their home.
- Father Amadi!: If you’re a girl and you’ve read this book, now’s the time to start fawning and cooing over the fine hunk of a priest that besieged Kambili’s thoughts and heart. From his innocuous entrance as a different priest which Papa Kambili did not like, he was the definition of unconventional, the sort of priest who was truly missionary. His ability to make everyone have a sense of belonging and cater to everyone spiritually and emotionally at the same time defies belief. No surprise Kambili fell in love with him, his boyish-man features, his square shoulders, and the magic in the sound of his voice. Her devotion to him was poetic, such that the last scene where he tells her “You will find more love than you’ll ever need in a lifetime” broke me. Damn you Amadi! Can’t you just leave the priesthood and take this girl? (Don’t mind me please, I love happy endings,lol). Their relationship was wholesome and nothing short of intensely beautiful. I hope we agree on this.
- Jaja comes unfurled: I always felt Jaja was no surprise package. He showed from the start that he wanted to live, to stand up and be counted. He wanted to “be a man”, and he felt his father was not nudging him in that direction. His relationship with Obiora was the spark he needed to explode into the man who took the fall for his mother’s crime. The quiet boy we met at the start of the story was not entirely quiet by nature, but was taught to and he chose to keep mute. Once he left the house it was clear to anyone reading that he was not the quiet boy under his father’s roof that we knew. The ending of the story, especially as it concerned Jaja left me feeling vaguely satisfied, knowing that the boy had completed the tortuous journey into the threshold of African manhood; a thankless, joyless, sometimes suffocating phase of living.
So, what did you enjoy about Purple Hibiscus? What are your memorable and unforgettable part in the book? A quote? A line? Let me know in the comments below!