I have big love for this woman.
Purple Hibiscus, for me, comes after Half of a yellow sun, and I can say, the magic is on!
Adichie inspires with the authenticity of her feelings that shine through her words and her characters. Purple Hibiscus is the story of a dysfunctional family, the kind we might all identify with somewhere in some way, be it near or distant.
Eugene is a Godly man who only knows to rule his family with the power this confers; only, he takes it a bit too far through violence with penitence on its heels. Pleas for forgiveness from God, exhortations of justice against the innocent victimhood – or rather, desperation and helplessness – and a twisted kind of deference and even admiration on part of his family, his wife Beatrice and two children, Kambili and Jaja. Eugene is Catholic and a powerful businessman, and a newspaper publisher, and the chief of his ‘Umunna’ (community) – outlining the sort of a person who has beat all odds to climb the social, financial, and even political ladder to hold influence wherever he goes. He commands the mass with the prayer, his family with the stick, and his community with his charity. He is Catholic and has no space in his life for heathens, even if his own father is one. Only Jaja is coming to terms with their victimhood as a family, and standing up to it with little eddies of rebellion. A defining passage:
‘Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.’
Political resistance in Nigeria is the background the story is set in and provides the contours of the moral resistance brewing in Eugene’s family. There is a parallel narrative of Eugene’s sister’s family – Ifeoma and her three children. Ifeoma is a university professor and her husband is dead. Her family is everything Eugene’s not – fun-loving, carefree, fearless, loving, caring, together, and poor. It is this family that finds the heart and the means to care for their (Eugene’s and Ifeoma’s) father and conduct his last rites, and not Eugene because his father wouldn’t trade his Gods for Eugene’s Cross.
Irony presents in the grandfather’s prayers: ‘Give me both wealth and a child, but if I must choose one, give me a child because when my child grows, so will my wealth’.
And then this one from Ifeoma: ‘Eugene has to stop doing God’s job. God is big enough to do his own job. If God will judge our father for choosing to follow the way of our ancestors, then let God do the judging, not Eugene.’
There are moments of reckoning for Jaja and Kambili as they spend some time at their’s aunt’s place in another city, perhaps just as much for Beatrice herself in the absence of her children.
Here’s another that, for me, stands for the entire idea behind this book: ‘Jaja laughed. it sounded like a series of snorts strung together. “Of course God does. Look 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?’
The perfection in those words and the idea of this book is something I find incredibly moving.