Title: Purple Hibiscus
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Date of Publication: 2006
Reviewer: Olutayo Irantiola
The novel is quite an interesting long piece that is predominantly about a family and their relatives. As it is known, Africans are predominantly communal in nature. The narration technique was in the first person; this was done by Kambili; a teenager who was visible throughout the story. She relays the story of all that happened in her family to us.
There are certain things that strike one in the novel. Readers would encounter the world of the Catholic adherents in the novel. Specific mentions of the Mass and other related items of worship include- Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday Mass, Holy Water, Novenas, Credo and Kyrie, Offertory songs, Catholic hymnals, Christmas Day Mass, The Catholic version of the Bible with Deuterocanonical books, Our Father, Hail Mary, the Glory be, the Apostles’ Creed. Others are Apparitions, Eucharist fast, feast of Epiphany, Celebration of the Passion of Christ, Stations of the Cross, 15 decades of the rosary and confirmation. All these attest to the deep understanding of Catholicism by the narrator.
There are also some contrasts in the life of an African man and his adoption of religion. There is a different between the life of Papa Eugene Achike and Aunty Ifeoma. Aunty Ifeoma did not leave her father despite his belief in the African tradition and not Catholicism. It was very painful for the old man who never enjoyed his son because of this contrast. Eugene believed that starving his father would make him change his ways but his thoughts were contrary. One would also understand that Ifeoma is a lecturer in the Institute of African Studies and that is why she can relate with her father who happens to be a traditionalist and he is tagged Pagan by Eugene. The most challenging part of the text was when Papa Nnukwu told Father Amadi that, “But you must never lie to them. Never teach them to disregard their fathers”. This statement reflects his agony.
Eugene is an image of a religious bigot. He is donates generously to the church; he relates well to people of the ummunna but the challenge is the way in which he relates with family and his staff at the Standard newspaper. He is quite hostile to his wife and children most especially in his desire to make them adhere to the tenets of Catholism. He poured hot water on his daughter’s legs, kicked her till she ran into coma when he saw the painting of his father, Papa Nnukwu, with her. He broke the figurine on the first page of the novel; threw table on his wife’s belly. This nature also made him stay out of his father’s burial ceremony except if he would be buried as a Catholic.
The greatest way a Nigerian usually relates to books authored by a citizen is the infiltration of our local languages. Igbo language and culture is abundant in the text. Some of the words encountered in the book were translated in subsequent sentences or line while some were left without interpretation. Some of these words are Omelora (Eugene’s title meaning one who does the community good); ke kwanu, nne, gbo, o zugo, ngwo-ngwo, azu, ummunna, ogwu, anara, azu ochira, biko, bunie ya enu, nno, umu m, ome mma, Chineke, o diegwu, nno nu, isi owu, shuku, okporoko, kedu. Others are mmuo, ifukwa, imakwa, nna anyi, nwunye m, tufia, kpa, icheke, ima mmuo, o joka, kunie, anam asi, oga, o maka ezi okwu, ekwuzina, iga sikwa, nza, nno nu, Agbogho, ifukwa gi and many more.
Also Igbo foods mentioned in the book include Ofe nsala, fufu and onugbu soup; yam, Orah leaves for soup; ofada rice, ugu soup, okpa and a local wine: palm wine. There are some other cultural festivals and elements which include Ani-the god of the land and the Aro festival.
Some of the locations mentioned in the book include Enugu (with mentions of two places: Genesis and Nike Lake), Nsukka, Abba(this is the town where Eugene got his traditional title), Ukpo (the town where Aunty Ifeoma’s husband hails from), Abagana (where Aro festival takes place); Ugwu-Oba, Minna (where Nwankiti Ogechi was killed), Ogige market; Odim Hall, Aokpe (place of apparition); Isienu and Ugwu Agidi, Port Harcourt. Also, there a lot of societal happenings that one can relate with, in the novel such as polygamy, coup ‘detat, mismanagement of public funds, strike in the university, financial impropriety in the university, brain drain. Others are adulteration of kerosene, gully erosion, rising cost of food, the story of Nwankiti Ogechi as related to the Ken Saro-Wiwa saga and Ade Coker’s murder to that of Dele Giwa.
Another element in the book is the musical part of it that features prominent Nigerian acts such as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti; Onyeka Onwenu and Osita Osadebe who are said to be culturally conscious and indigenous musicians. Other mentioned songs include the ones introduced by Father Amadi during Mass e.g ka m bunie afa gi enu, Ina-asi m esona ya!
Evident contrasts that can be drawn from the book include- Pentecostal beliefs versus Orthodox beliefs; Shrine versus Grotto; Parents versus In-laws; Pagan versus Traditionalist; Health Challenge versus Eucharist fast; Lifestyle at home versus lifestyle when on holidays; Religion versus Oppression; Pagan Funeral versus Catholic Funeral; Comparison of two parishes; Activists versus Complacents; Confirmation names: Igbo versus English; Encouraging Nollywood and influx of Mexican shows.
The novel became grim from the time when Eugene passed on and Jaja’s confession of poisoning him; Mama also became depressed and Jaja’s stay in the prison being on the awaiting trial list for about 3 years. Kambili had a new lease of hope that Jaja would soon be released from detention.
The book has potentials of being longer between the death of Eugene and the incarceration of Jaja. This, notwithstanding, can also be akin to the deliberate need to escape the memories of doom after Eugene’s uneventful death. It is a good read for any lover of literature; it is a good book to test students of literature because has great vivid visual description that brings the reader into the story and suspense is retained throughout the novel.
(c)Olutayo IRAN-TIOLA, Lagos, Nigeria