Kimbali is the 15-year-old daughter of a wealthy Nigerian businessman. Her father, Eugene, is adored by the community for his philanthropy. Their home is spacious, luxuriously furnished, and immaculate. But within his home Eugene rules with an iron hand, guided by his fanatical religious beliefs. He keeps his children on a tight schedule and closely monitors their activities. He is estranged from his own father because of his refusal to convert to Christianity, and his children’s visits with their grandfather are limited to 15 minutes. When Kimbali and her brother Jaja are allowed to visit their Aunty Ifeoma and her children, they experience love and laughter for the first time. Kimbali is intimidated, afraid that she is going against her father’s will, and against God. She is also embarrassed by her lack of basic household skills. Jaja adapts more easily to his cousins’ lifestyle, and finds satisfaction in household chores, tending the garden, and playing sports with local boys. They both return home changed by the experience.
All of this unfolds against a backdrop of Nigerian political unrest which threatens the lives of several characters. But this story is primarily a coming-of-age novel: Kimbali’s process of self-discovery continues, and Jaja begins to resist his father’s authority. Their abusive home environment is increasingly evident. This was Adichie’s debut novel; it was long-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize and made the Orange Prize shortlist the same year. While it was not as compelling as her second book, Half of a Yellow Sun (my review
), it is beautifully written and filled with believable characters. I found the symbolism behind the purple hibiscus particularly moving: Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s 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, do do. (p. 16) ( )