I first heard about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Purple Hibiscus when it was shortlisted for last year’s Booker Prize. It’s the story of a fifteen-year-old girl’s discovery of a world outside her sheltered and oppressive family home, which I found as “unputdownable” as any thriller. The story centres around young Kambili’s fear of her oppressive father and the contrast between her life and those of her cousins and schoolmates.
The outrageous punishments that Kambili and her brother Jaja suffer for the most minor transgressions might seem completely impossible for any parent to contemplate. I don’t personally know anyone who lived through similar experiences, but Papa’s insistence on perfection and maintaining nearly unachievable standards are familiar to me. I suppose that obsessiveness combined with a belief that “what does not kill you makes you stronger” might conceivable lead a parent to do these horrible things, while believing that they were really in the child’s best interests.
The novel is about more than Papa’s behaviour; it also describes the contradictions of colonial life and the unstable political atmosphere of modern Nigeria. But it was the story of Kambili’s learning to sing and (even!) laugh that really touched me.