Set in Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus is the story of Kambili and JaJa, seemingly privileged children of a rich and powerful man. But there Papa has a dark side. While he treats the community generously, he is religious fanatic and punishes any family member who appears to be backsliding. His wife and children live in constant fear of the next beating; his father and sister live impoverished, barely able to eat, because he won't give them money without an implicit agreement that they will live according to his belief system.
At 15 and 17, Kambili and JaJa are reluctantly allowed to spend a week with their aunt and cousins. For the first time, they are exposed to what family life could really be like. Kambili is socially handicapped ("Is there something wrong with her?" asks her teenaged cousin), petrified of saying the wrong thing or of displeasing her father. She is certain that her Papa will know if she does anything that is unauthorized by him (he sends a schedule along with them to follow). I love how Kambili focuses on her relatives' laughter. The whole concept of laughter and conversation about anything other than religion is completely foreign to her, but she desperately wants to take part in this new life.
The short visit to their aunt's house is a turning point in the lives of Kambili and Jaja, and their life gets much more difficult as a result—but they also gain hope. They know that there is a life outside of their father's compound and people who love them without condition.
This book is difficult to read because of the horrible abuse, but it is so well worth it. I wish Adichie had more novels for me to devour, but I will be reading her book of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck.
Linked up with the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon