Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was widely acclaimed when it was published in 2003. Shortlisted for and awarded several prestigious prizes, Purple Hibiscus was praised for capturing a character and a nation on the cusp of radical change. Adichie uses her own childhood experiences to inform the lives of her characters. She was born in Kambili’s home town of Enugu, raised in Aunty Ifeoma’s university environment in Nsukka, is of Igbo descent, and is a Catholic.
Purple Hibiscus is a story of the corruption and religious fundamentalism that grips Adichie’s native country. Told from the point of view of a child, overt political messages are held at an arm’s length, but they inform Kambili’s coming of age. The wave of bloody coups and corrupt military rule that comprises Nigerian politics are touched upon in the novel through certain characters. Though Papa can be viewed as a metaphor for the dangers of fundamentalism, he tries to put his power to good use by raising social consciousness. Adichie modeled the character Ade Coker after Dele Giwa, a journalist and outspoken critic of the Nigerian government. Giwa was killed by a mail bomb in his home in 1986. Adichie echoes real political activism and events in her novel.
Adichie was a good student in school but, unlike Kambili, she had a reputation for butting heads with her teachers; Obiora is more like Adichie. Purple Hibiscus is a coming of age story for both Kambili and Jaja. While Jaja is not allowed to participate in the Igbo ritual of initiation, both children are able to take considerable steps towards their own adult identities throughout the novel. Inspired by her outspoken aunt and cousin Amaka, Kambili in particular learns to use her voice. Adichie uses Purple Hibiscus to give a voice to African experience that is not typically presented by Western media.