"Purple Hibiscus" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, List 1

January 3, 2017
Kambili and Jaja's life among the elite in Nigeria isn't so easy under the thumb of their oppressive father. When the country becomes mired in political turmoil, they are sent to stay with their aunt, where they learn a different way of life.

This list covers pages 1–52 in the 2012 Algonquin edition.

Here are links to our lists for the novel: List 1, List 2, List 3, List 4, List 5

Here is a link to our lists for Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the etagere.
Father Benedict had changed things in the parish, such as insisting that the Credo and kyrie be recited only in Latin; Igbo was not acceptable.
Also, hand clapping was to be kept at a minimum, lest the solemnity of Mass be compromised.
But he allowed offertory songs in Igbo; he called them native songs, and when he said “ native” his straight-line lips turned down at the corners to form an inverted U.
Brother Eugene spoke out for freedom. How many of us have stood up for the truth? How many of us have reflected the Triumphant Entry?
And I would sit with my knees pressed together, next to Jaja, trying hard to keep my face blank, to keep the pride from showing, because Papa said modesty was very important.
He always encouraged Father Benedict to call and win that person back into the fold; nothing but mortal sin would keep a person away from communion two Sundays in a row.
“Wafer” was too secular, wafer was what one of Papa’s factories made—chocolate wafer, banana wafer, what people bought their children to give them a treat better than biscuits.
Jaja knelt beside Mama, flattened the church bulletin he held into a dustpan, and placed a jagged ceramic piece on it.
The last time, only two weeks ago, when her swollen eye was still the black-purple color of an overripe avocado, she had rearranged them after she polished them.
She limped slightly, as though one leg were shorter than the other, a gait that made her seem even smaller than she was.
Afterward, he intoned the Blessed Virgin in several different titles while we responded, “Pray for us.”
He was supposed to say something now, to contribute, to compliment Papa’s new product.
Papa’s sister, Aunty Ifeoma, said once that Papa was too much of a colonial product.
Maybe Mama had realized that she would not need the figurines anymore; that when Papa threw the missal at Jaja, it was not just the figurines that came tumbling down, it was everything.
Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup.
Mama shook her head and smiled, the indulgent smile that stretched across her face when she talked about people who believed in oracles, or when relatives suggested she consult a witch doctor, or when people recounted tales of digging up hair tufts and animal bones wrapped in cloth that had been buried in their front yards to ward off progress.
“They do not know that God works in mysterious ways.”
Papa liked order. It showed even in the schedules themselves, the way his meticulously drawn lines, in black ink, cut across each day, separating study from siesta, siesta from family time, family time from eating, eating from prayer, prayer from sleep.
Papa had just checkmated Jaja when we heard the martial music on the radio, the solemn strains making us stop to listen.
Coups begat coups, he said, telling us about the bloody coups of the sixties, which ended up in civil war just after he left Nigeria to study in England.
Of course, Papa told us, the politicians were corrupt, and the Standard had written many stories about the cabinet ministers who stashed money in foreign bank accounts, money meant for paying teachers’ salaries and building roads.
“God will deliver us,” I said, knowing Papa would like my saying that.
Our branches never looked as bright as the demonstrators’, though, and sometimes as we drove past, I wondered what it would be like to join them, chanting “Freedom,” standing in the way of cars.
Our steps on the stairs were as measured and as silent as our Sundays: the silence of waiting until Papa was done with his siesta so we could have lunch; the silence of reflection time, when Papa gave us a scripture passage or a book by one of the early church fathers to read and meditate on; the silence of evening rosary; the silence of driving to the church for benediction afterward.
He prayed for the food first, then he asked God to forgive those who had tried to thwart His will, who had put selfish desires first and had not wanted to visit His servant after Mass.
I told Jaja what a girl in my class had said: that her mother turned their TV off, asking why she should watch fellow human beings die, asking what was wrong with all those people who had gathered at the execution ground.
His eyes were swollen and red, and somehow that made him look younger, more vulnerable.
Her eyes were vacant, like the eyes of those mad people who wandered around the roadside garbage dumps in town, pulling grimy, torn canvas bags with their life fragments inside.
Some of the holy water landed on my lips, and I tasted the stale saltiness of it as we prayed.
I knew his arrest was because of the big cover story in the last Standard, a story about how the Head of State and his wife had paid people to transport heroin abroad, a story that questioned the recent execution of three men and who the real drug barons were.
Jaja said that when he looked through the keyhole, Papa was holding Yewande’s hand and praying, telling her to repeat “none of those who trust in Him shall be left desolate.”
He lumbered upstairs, each heavy step creating turbulence in my head, and went into Jaja’s room.
I wanted to say I came second so that he would know immediately, so that I would acknowledge my failure, but instead I said, “Yes,” and handed him the report card.
That night, when Papa prayed, he added longer passages urging God to bring about the downfall of the Godless men ruling our country, and he intoned over and over, “Our Lady Shield of the Nigerian People, pray for us.”
When we got into the car, Kevin told Mama that the soldiers had been ordered to demolish the vegetable stalls because they were illegal structures.
I had heard this all before, how hard he had worked, how much the missionary Reverend Sisters and priests had taught him, things he would never have learned from his idol-worshiping father, my Papa-Nnukwu.
Finally, stuttering, I said, “I pledge to Nigeria, my country/To be faithful, loyal, and honest...”
“I just like running,” I said, and wondered if I would count that as a lie when I made confession next Saturday, if I would add it to the lie about not having heard Mother Lucy the first time.
It was like balancing a sack of gravel on my head every day at school and not being allowed to steady it with my hand.

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