Fifteen-year-old taciturn Kambili is raised by her strict-abusive-Catholic-fanatic father and her overbearingly meek and submissive mother. Her older brother, on the other hand, is the rebel of the family because of his ability to nonchalantly confront their father.
We are carried on Kambili’s journey of longing and loss as a teenage girl who has a deep love for her father regardless of his inadequacies. However, she finds herself constantly seeking his approval even though, he seems to prefer her disrespectful brother because he is a boy. Later in the book she finds her longing in a man who is much older than she is, when she goes to visit her cousins on holiday.
The book covers a range of social justice issues and the negative effects of colonial influence which is eye-opening and informative without being too exegetic. It shows that the father is also a victim—a victim of colonialism due to the presence of the Catholic missionaries in eastern Nigeria. He doesn't even realise it in many instances, such as when he makes his family speak only English, banning their native tongue, in the home.
His religious fanaticism also leads to him isolating his family from other relatives and their native traditions because they are seen as "heathen," while he physically assaults his wife and children under false Biblical justification.
Regardless of their father's shortcomings, we can tell that he has an unspoken love for his family by some of his subtle actions in the story—for instance, he always shares the first drink of his tea with his children.
I was gripped from beginning to end while reading this book as it took me on a roller-coaster of emotions, particularly because it ended in such a shocking plot twist. Even with the father’s abusive nature, I found myself feeling pity for him towards the end of the novel as secrets were revealed, and it made me wonder if the mother’s "submissive" nature was disingenuous.