Hello friends, so this weekend I am playing catch up with Day 8 of #WinterABC2022. I decided to go with the prompt from African Writer’s Trust: First book that ever introduced you to African Literature. You can find my previous #WinterABC2022 posts here.
I can’t remember the very first book that introduced me to African lit so I decided to write about one of the first African lit books I read and a pivotal book in my African literature journey, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I think what made Purple Hibiscus stand out for me was that Kambili seemed like someone I could possibly know. It was the first time a book I read had eloquently put into words what the typical African Upper middle class or middle class family looked like. The religious extremism of sorts that has so many of our households in a chokehold, the wife who stays in an abusive marriage because divorce is a no no or will lead to destitution. The chameleon lives that people lead, Kambili’s father to the outside world was the perfect church going family man meanwhile his family were terrified of him. In this social media age, never has the ruse of appearances been proven more true. People lead double lives, online or to the outside world they might seem like the perfect person or that they live a happy life meanwhile they are dying inside.
Kambili’s crush on Father Amadi is one part of the book that always interested me. She knows this man can never be hers but she can’t help herself. Perhaps he was the hero that she wished her father could have been. Besides at 15 you can’t help who fall in love with I think. As I was browsing the book to remember somethings to possibly include in this post. I came across this passage. it was a question Amaka, Kambili’s cousin asks Father Amadi about his move to Germany. “The white missionaries brought us their god,” Amaka was saying. “Which was the same colour as them, worshiped in their language and packaged in the boxes they made. Now that we take their god back to them, shouldn’t we at least repackage it?” This is quite an interesting take that would need a whole blog post of its own but shows just how many themes Purple Hibiscus explores. A religion and culture brought about by strangers that ends up taking over indigenous cultures and lives is a powerful thing.
The sacrifice Jaja makes on behalf of his mother is also another poignant part of the book. It is basically what makes him a man, his rite of passage. It is quite unfortunate that it has to take murder for Kambili’s family to obtain freedom from their father’s tyranny. Jaja had always been emasculated by his father and it is literally his absence from church that Palm Sunday that is the first domino to fall. As a man, you can say he probably felt that it was his responsibility to look after his mother and sister and take the fall.
The contrast between Kambili’s home life and that of her aunt’s was very significant. Kambili’s family had the money but not the peace or happiness it supposedly brings while Aunty Ifeoma’s family might not have had the money but they were definitely happy. Kambili’s mother and Aunty Ifeoma can be seen as allegories of African women, one subjugated in abusive marriage with no voice of her own, the other outspoken, emboldened and empowered by singlehood though in this case single not by choice. I think if Aunty Ifeoma had been married, she would not have been written the way she was.
I also love that the opening line is an ode to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, at least I would like to think so and foretells the destruction to Kambili’s life as she had known it. All in all, Purple Hibiscus was the first book that I ever read where I felt like this is a world I know or parts of it at least and for that reason, it remains a pivotal book in my African literature journey.