Monday, July 28, 2014

See the world through the eyes of a child: Purple Hibiscus

“You know that small table where we keep the family Bible, nne? Your father broke it on my belly”.

That line deep into Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, her debut novel, broke my heart in so many ways.

Powerful book indeed. 
Purple Hibiscus is told through the eyes of a child, 15-year-old Kambile. She’s a quiet, nervous teenager. Her Catholic father, a religious and fanatical tyrant, is physically and extremely emotionally abusive. Interesting enough the word “abuse” is never used in the story – Adichie like the skilled story teller she is – shows us the abuse and doesn't spell it out for the reader.

I don’t know how Adichie managed to capture abuse the way she did via Kambile.

Through Kambile’s eyes I saw a loving family man, a solid Christian, a community leader, a giver and a strict man. She doesn't over-emphasize the abuse. She doesn't openly voice out how wrong it is. She loves her father and even protects him. Yet once you read between the lines you ultimately uncover that this teenager was crying out for help. It’s, at the most part, very hard to digest.

When things began to get politically messy,  Kambile and her brother were sent to their aunt. It is there, a distance from their home, that the two learn to be children. First thing their aunt did was to take away their schedule. Yes, the father dictated to them what to do with their time; such as when to spend time with their cousins and for how long. This was a significant symbol of how things would change for the children covered in a silence that was way too loud. The father didn't need to be present to provoke feelings of fear in Kambili.

Another theme that stood out for me in this novel was how the rich/elite are treated by a class lower than their rank. We are conditioned to believe money equals happiness and perfection, “they are rich – what more do they want”.

We forget that behind the money are people with people issues. And sometimes, while they are keeping appearances – our attitude and comments towards this class of people prevents them from opening up.

We are also conditioned to think the abuse Kambile and her brother Jaja experienced is only happening in poorer homes. We are still a long way to go with dealing with abuse on ground level when we are still dealing with issues of status.

When Kambile entered her aunt’s home, she was short of saying “love lives here”. It became her save haven – a place where she flourished and so did her brother. It’s a slow breaking of the shell but it comes through.

The story ends on a bitter - sweet tone, but I have realised this kinds of endings are Adichie’s style. I felt a similar type of discomfort at the end of Halfof A Yellow Sun, all it was a very different story.

I didn't want to stop reading. There were questions I wanted answered. Does Kambile ever call what her father did abuse? Will she grow up and loath him or will she remain in fear? Will her nightmares stop?

If you are sensitive to stories about abuse – read this book with caution. It hurts. I put it down a couple of times just to catch my feelings, my tears and my shock. It threw me into deep thought.

Children should be protected and never harmed. 


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