This is a story about the narrator, Kambili, who is a fifteen year old girl that discloses her life experiences as she navigates growing up in a very rigid, religious, fairly wealthy family and surviving her father’s oppressive and violent nature.
Kambili’s father, Eugene, is a wealthy business man and prominent public figure. Eugene is a generous man and donates considerable sums to worthy charitable organisations and local families. He is a strong Catholic and does not tolerate anything he considers atheistic. This includes his father who is a follower of traditional beliefs and norms. However, within his home Eugene is a cruel tyrant subjecting Kambili, her brother Jaja and her mother to horrendous physical and psychological abuse.
Kambili grows up and begins to understand the ways of her family; it can be connected to the pattern of the government being that it is a dictatorship as well. Additionally, the British colonial influence has a severe hold over Kambili’s family and her father as it dictates the way in which they live and view their lives. They are restricted from speaking Igbo and they must excel in their missionary education.
As the country begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili and Jaja are sent to their aunt, a university professor outside the city, where they discover a life beyond the confines of their father’s authority, and laughter rings throughout the house. When they return home, tensions within the family escalate, and Kambili must find the strength to keep her loved ones together. Kambili’s faith and spirituality is a major part of the novel and an aspect of her life that was found extremely intriguing.