My expectations were high. I would already consider myself a fan of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie since I first saw her TED talk about the danger of a single story. A few months later, she published Americanah, which I devoured. Then I started to have a look at her other works as well, and have only recently gotten my hands on Purple Hibiscus (Fourth Estate, 2004). And even though I would say I am not disappointed, I have to admit that it’s the weakest of her works so far. (Admitting also that I did not read her short stories because I don’t like short stories as a genre.) Now when I say weak I don’t mean not convincing, or that the plot had serious flaws or anything. My judgement here is entirely based on the book’s affective qualities, which are still pretty high, but not quite Americanah-level.
Without telling to much about the story, let’s just say it’s a coming-of-age novel/Bildungsroman situated in a dictatorship-ridden Nigeria, where fifteen year-old Kambili struggles to find her way and voice between the worlds dominated by her religiously fanatic father Eugene and her open-minded and pragmatic aunt Ifeoma. As Daria Tunca has analyzed in her article An Ambiguous”Freedom Song”, the narrative voice might quite well be intentionally flat or emotionless. Personally, I wouldn’t even go as far, because from the hints we get at how Kambili, her mother and her brother are beaten by her father, her narrative voice might as well reflect trauma.
How did I come across the book?
I have read backwards through the oevre of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, starting with Americanah, followed by Half of a Yellow Sun, and when I found out Purple Hibiscus wasn’t a collection of short stories, I finally read that one two. However, the other way around might have been more impressing. All three are immensely enjoyable, but I would say I liked Americanah best, so far.
When and where did I read it?
During my two weeks home office at my parents place, the book acompanied me on local train rides, several nights before sleep, and the train ride back to Constance, where I basically didn’t put it down for some 150 pages. As I said, it’s not a bad read at all.