Book Review: Purple Hibiscus

February 28, 2011

When I started reading this book, I found it too slow and a bit difficult to get into. I was in the mood for something intense and gripping. But I stuck with it and I’m glad I did. I think it’s going to be the kind of book that stays with me for a long time.

It’s a slow story, one that builds up slowly and, after it’s reached the climax, lets you down slowly, so slowly that it’s only a day or two after finishing the book that you realize where exactly the climax was. It’s a thoughtful book, intense in its own slow, descriptive way. The characters are drawn in a few strokes, but they seem real all the same. The most shocking part of the book, deliberately, compellingly, inhumanly shocking, is the domestic violence, which is described objectively, matter-of-factly. It is so extremely matter-of-fact that you can hardly believe it is violence being described. What’s even more difficult to stomach – though I don’t disbelieve it; I just don’t understand it – is how the girl still loves her father so much. And that he also probably really loves her – and the rest of his family – in his horribly twisted, violent way. In that way, it’s a chilling book.

At first the book reminded me of To Kill a Mocking Bird. By the time I’d finished, I could still see some similarity, though obviously the storyline is completely different. The narrative style is similarly simple and direct, without decoration. And the voice is that of a small girl. The difference is that here, the girl is hardly a small girl – she’s 15. The entire time that I was reading, I could not picture a girl of 15. She sounds about 7. That disconnect adds to the impact of the story she’s telling. With a life like that, what would you expect?

Having myself come from a largely “normal” family (whatever “normal” might be) it is very difficult – actually, impossible, maybe – for me to imagine or accept that all around us there are families where these things happen. This book forces me to think about that. While many works of fiction are forgotten soon after you put them down, this one forces me to accept that a different kind of family, a different kind of reality is out there. This book brought that reality to life for me in just one story. Very few books can do that.

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