Newest Review: ... of Nigeria's civil war and the short-lived state of Biafra through the lives of three main characters. Ugwu is a poor boy from a villag... more
Half of a Yellow Sun
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Member Name: perfectly-p
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Advantages: Beautifully written
Disadvantages: Images of war are never nice.
I don't often write book reviews but I really enjoyed (if that is the right turn of phrase) this book and thought I would share my thoughts. Half of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria during the 1960s and the title comes from the national emblem for Biafra. Whilst I, like many others of my generation, remember the harrowing television images of starving children during the Biafrian crisis, I have to confess my understanding of the background to that crisis was quite derisory. Although this book is fiction it is set during the now well documented political revolution and, judging by the dedication at the front of the book, it is a period time during which some of the authors forefathers perished. It provides a harrowing account of the impact that war can have on civilian life; touching on issues of class and race and of tribal hostility arising out of Nigeria's colonial past, politics and political propaganda, the brutality of war and of child soldiering and the consequential famine and suffering of the ordinary people. It is a book that can invoke many emotions in the reader... read it for yourself to find out how you feel.
This is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's second novel and was, rightly in my opinion, the winner of the Orange prize for fiction in 2007. She was born in Nigeria in 1977 and I think the writing in this book shows a maturity and depth far beyond her young years.
The book focuses on five main characters weaving together their lives as they are swept up in the violence of the military coup, the Biafran secession and the subsequent famine, stretching their human resources to their limits.
Professor Odenigbo is an armchair socialist-leaning maths lecturer at the local University of Nsukka. He is enthused by the end of colonialism and confident and optimistic for the future of the newly seceded Biafran state. He is to see and feel these ideals fall apart as war and time progresses.
Olanna is a strikingly beautiful, young middle class woman and mistress of the professor. She is enthralled by his idealism and sees him as an escape from her parents world of wealth and excess. She is my favourite of the characters who I feel grows and matures with each adversity she is confronted with.
Kainene is Olanna's much plainer and sometimes estranged twin sister. She takes over the running their father's business but is something of a remote, albeit straight talking character, who is difficult to fully understand.
Ugwu is a village boy intensely loyal to his employer, Odenigbo. Although a houseboy he is soon enrolled at the university staff school. He is a fervent reader of books and spends his evenings listening to the intellectual debate of his master and friends. His forced conscription into the Biafran army reveals the brutalising effects of war on a young and mild-mannered boy. He is, I think, almost the central character in this book as he is always in the background of whatever the other characters are going through.
Richard is a shy English writer who is Kainene's boyfriend but is at the same time enthralled by Olanna. He is a white man who is more at home in Biafra than England, although the reasons for this are not really explored. He is always intending to write a book about Igbo art and culture.
The novel begins in Nigeria in the early 1960's. It was a time of relative peace and prosperity after independence. We hear of Ugwu's creativity in the kitchen with recipes of pepper soup and spicy jollof rice prepared for Odenigbo's house parties where radical political discussions abound. But tribal and ethnic tensions boil over when the Igbo people lead a military coup in 1966, which is followed by a government led campaign of persecution against the Igbo six months later. The eastern region of Nigeria declares itself an independent state by the name of the Republic of Biafra.
Olanna has to deal with the massacre of her Igbo relatives and then, with Odenigbo and their adopted daughter, has to move from their comfortable home to squalid conditions in one room on the edge of a refuge camp, while living in constant fear of Nigerian air raids. Biafran secession has resulted in a refugee crisis, made worse by the Nigerian blockade of food and aid into Biafra. The family survive on meagre and intermittent food aid supplies eked out with the occasional roasted lizard or cricket.
Meanwhile Ugwu is forcibly conscripted and caught up in pointless and gratuitous acts of violence. Eventually Odenigbo and Olanna have to flee the camp and stay with Kainene and Richard. Here they have to confront and surmount some of the personal issues that have made relationships difficult between the four of them. Odenigbo, who was always so strong, has succumbed to drink and despair while Olanna has found inner strengths. Their previously comfortable world has been shattered and each character is confronted by physical and emotional pain that would test the strongest of spirits. While looking at what is happening both in Nigeria and in their personal lives, and forward to an uncertain future, Kainene rather philosophically puts things in perspective when she says "There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable".
Do any or all of them survive? Well, I would strongly recommend you read the book for yourself to find out.
A note on the writing style. Some of the chapters in this book are closed with lines from what seems to be another book called 'The world was silent when we died'. Through out I thought they were pieces from Richards alluded to work; you have to wait until the end to find out - if you read the book that is! A very small niggle with the book is that it is not written strictly in chronological order and there is some jumping back and forth in time, although this did not distract in any way from my captivation by this novel. A word of warning though, it is not a book for the feint hearted as it does not shy from describing the ravages of war and atrocities committed by the soldiers of both sides. Some things never change... you only need to read the newspaper today to see Kenya spiralling out of control and Israel blockading the Gaza Strip causing fuel and food shortages.
Like many modern day DVD's this book comes with some extras at the end. This includes the authors note of thanks to many friends and family, a list of books on a similar theme, a question and answer session with the author and a short synopsis of her first book the 'Purple Hibiscus'.
I read the paperback version of Half of a Yellow Sun, published by Harper Collins, with a cover price of £7.99.
İperfectly-p 2008 (aka perfectlypolished)
Summary: A well written, thought provoking novel