Knopf Canada|March 26, 2013|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-345-80752-6
Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.
When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways. This is a book about the promise of freedom, about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood, between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new.
Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s home life began to fall apart when her older brother, seventeen-year-old, Jaja, didn’t attend communion at church. Their father, Eugene was a devoutly religious man. He was so enraged about his son’s dismissal of communion that he threw his heavy missal across the room and smashed the figurines on the table. Kambili’s father was always first to receive communion and the only one of the parishioners to kneel at the altar.
Father Benedict had been the priest at their church for seven years now but because he was white, the congregation still referred to him as “our new priest.” He often held up Kambili’s father, Eugene as an example to other congregants due to his dedication and for speaking out for freedom. Other Sundays, Father Benedict spoke about, Eugene making the largest donations to St. Vincent de Paul and other organizations, or for paying for the cartons of communion wine and for paying for the new ovens the sisters used to bake the host. Eugene was dedicated and very rich.
Eugene questioned Jaja as to why he missed communion and Jaja said: “The wafer gives me bad breath…and the Priest keeps touching my mouth and it nauseates me.” Eugene was enraged and picked up the missal and flung it across the room toward Jaja.
Eugene owned a factory that made chocolate wafers, banana wafers, various drinks and other food stuffs and was very successful. At lunch that afternoon, the family was taste-testing a new drink that tasted like cashews. Kambili’s mother, Beatrice thought it tasted like wine. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and commented except Jaja. This made Kambili nervous as she wanted him to say something nice as their father had not yet punished him for missing communion. She was hoping a positive comment from him might lighten the atmosphere and make her father forget.
Beatrice announces to Kambili that she is pregnant and that the baby would be due in October. Kambili told Jaja and he told Kambili that the two of them would look after the baby and protect it. Kambili knew he meant protect the baby from their father, a hugely strict and abusive man who was easily angered and expected perfection from everyone in all that they did and encouraged order in everything.
During family time the following day, it was announced on the radio that a coup had happened. Eugene immediately left the room to call his friend, Ade Coker. He said that “coups begat coups” then told the kids about the bloody coups of the sixties, which ended up in civil war just after he left Nigeria to study in England. He said that a coup always began a vicious cycle. Eugene believed that Nigeria didn’t need soldiers but a “renewed democracy.”
Eugene also owned and operated a newspaper and Ade Coker was his editor. Ade had been arrested and tortured for some of his opinions he wrote in the paper. After a week, Eugene was finally able to get him out of jail. Eugene then announced to the family that beginning immediately they were going to publish underground as it was no longer safe for his staff.
A few days before Christmas, the family packed up their three cars and headed for their holiday home in Abba town. The people of the community there adored, Eugene and called him “omelora” which meant: “The One Who Does for the Community.” During their vacation, Eugene’s family fed the entire community and sent all the leftovers home with them as well.
For the first time in their lives, Kambili and Jaja are going away for five whole days to stay with their Aunty Ifeoma, Eugene’s sister and her children. Kambili and Jaja are excited as they won’t have to listen to their strict and religious father or listen to his heavy footsteps on the stairs for almost a week!
When the children returned from Aunty Ifeoma’s, Eugene literally tortured them because he learned that his own father had been there as well, and Eugene considered him a heathen. He felt Kambili and Jaja had lied to him because they didn’t tell him on the phone that their grandfather was there.
Although, Eugene is a religious man and very kind with his money, he is a cruel, ogre as far as I’m concerned. His cruelty toward Kambili and Jaja and Beatrice is unforgivable.
The ending totally shocked me but as sadistic as it sounds, it made me a tad happy. What am I talking about? Well, you’ll have to read this wonderful story to find out.
There is so much more to this story, I couldn’t put it down. Purple Hibiscus definitely gets a thumbs up from me!