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Fiction

Half of the Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’m reading this book in conjunction with the Nigerian Literature Challenge hosted by the lovely Amy @ Amy Reads. I’m a day late in posting the review but here goes!

Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of several characters before and during the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967-1970. The book opens with Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old boy from a small village became a houseboy in a town called Nsukka. His master is Odenigbo, a university professor who regularly plays host to a group of friends who embarks on political discourse after a few drinks. His partner, Olanna Ozobia, with a twin named Kainene, is the daughter of a rich businessman. Ugwu very quickly love his new mistress of the house and faithfully serves the household with his wonderful cooking. The other main protagonist is Richard Churchill, an Englishman drawn to Nigeria by his interest in Igbo-Ukwu art and falls in love with Kainene. The twins have maintained a rather strange relationship, loving and hating each other at the very same time. Whilst Olanna is compliant and compassionate, Kainene takes after her father, an astute businesswoman, sharp, intelligent and acerbic.

Half of a Yellow Sun  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a regular title on my local charity bookstore (along with Ian McEwan and Bill Bryson!), so it has been a long time since I am dying to read this book and find out more about the history of Nigeria. I feel closer to the country now as many of my colleagues at work are originally from Nigeria. The book tells of the struggle of Biafra in the back of all these interesting characters. So I thought I’ll look up some historical facts to put some context to the plot.

The nation of Biafra was formed when one of Nigeria’s ethnic groups, the Igbo, attempted to secede from Nigeria and establish their own country, sparks the Nigeria-Biafran war 1967-1970 – but the newly-created Republic of Biafra received little support from the rest of the world and lasted less than three years. The Biafran flag (shown to the right) consisted of red, black and green horizontal stripes, with half of a yellow sun in the middle. Political conflict between the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani people erupted into two deadly military coups. From 1968 onward, the war fell into a form of deadlock, with Nigerian forces unable to make significant advances into the remaining areas of Biafran control. Nigeria cut off humanitarian aid to Biafra, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilians dying from starvation and disease. Many lives and resources were lost during the war; and even today there are still tensions between the different ethnic and religious groups of Nigeria.

The beginning of the book was sort of a lull for me, but I like the way Adichie has spent time to carve her characters from the start of their life stories and how they all came together. There were much more domestic squabbles, relationship issues and sibling rivalry abounds at the beginning of the book. When the war began and the protagonists have to run from city to city, the action picks up. They finally end up in the refugee town of Umuahia, where they suffer as a result of food shortages and the constant air raids and paranoid. As Olanna’s life is reduced to basic necessity and near starvation, the incident of the hungry crowd fighting for her can of corn beef was the most heart rending. There were some vivid and harrowing descriptions of war suffering and perhaps the most vivid  and moving I have ever read, I thought the horrific of a civil war came through – with starvation, shelling, plundering, murders and rapes of the Biafran people.

If she had died, if Odenigbo and Baby and Ugwu had died, the bunker would still smell like a freshly tilled farm and the sun would still rise and the crickets would still hop around. The war would continue without them. Olanna exhaled, filled with a frothy rage. It was the very sense o f being inconsequential that pushed her from extreme fear to extreme fury. She had to matter. She would no longer exist limply, waiting to die. Until Biafra won, the vandals would no longer dictate the terms of her life. – page 351

The character of Richard offers a voice as an observer of the country and the culture and became to regard himself as a Biafran. An aspiring novelist, he uses his writing skills to propagate the Brifra cause. An excerpt of a book called : “The Book: The World Was Silent When We Died”, which I wasn’t sure if Richard or Ugwu was the one who wrote it, pops up now and again at the end of the chapter and it gave me a wave of melancholic reflection at the end of that chapter, which was good.

Cover of my copy that I read

On the flip side, I found the structure of the book a little strange. The book starts part 1 as early sixties, then part 2 as late sixties, part 3 back to early sixties then part 4 late sixties. It moves backwards and forwards in time. The biggest confusion was to find out in part 2 that Olanna has a child called Baby and then part 3 about the birth of the child. That made me think Olanna was going to have 2 children! A bit confusing really. And the ending! Arghh… the ending. The ending is a little strange as well and not one I would like. I suppose it’s a way of leaving the story with a bit of regret and grief like how one would feel when they lost someone to the war.

My take-away from the book besides a greater understanding of the country’s history, is how fragile life is and how sometimes people did mistakes at the spur of the moment and live to regret it; and about how war reduced a decent human being to savage and performed atrocious deed that on a normal life one would never do. The book also taught me about love and forgiveness, that despite the many tribulations, one should never choose misery:

Olanna sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off. She thought about how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery. She would move back to Odenigbo’s house. – page 306

Adichie offers a voice to the Biafran history that the world may have forgotten. There are a lot going on in the book, a lot of characters and a lot of good plot and story line that strings me along but there is something I can’t put a finger on what it is about the writing but it feels a little choppy and disjointed for me. Having said that, this is not a show stopper for anyone who wants to enjoy a good read.  What did it for me about Half of a Yellow Sun was the fact that Adichie brilliantly evokes the uncertainty and fear that people who live through wars have to deal with on a daily basis. Like many other reviews, I’m glad that I read the book because now I have a much better understanding of  the Nigerian/Biafran history and the various tribal distinction of ethnic Nigeria. This book makes me want to read more about Africa. 🙂

Today, 1 October is the Nigeria Independence Day. Happy birthday Nigeria.

Rating: 

Helen @ She Reads Novel: There are a few surprises at the end of the book and it certainly didn’t conclude the way I was expecting it to. I can’t really say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book but I’m glad I read it because I now have a much better understanding of this period of Nigerian/Biafran history

Amy Reads: This book took me 5 days to read, which is a lot longer than a book this size would normally take. As I said above, it truly was heartbreaking. I highly recommend it to everyone as I think it explores some really important topics as well as gives us a human view of a big event in history that is still affecting things today.

Things mean a lotHalf of a Yellow Sun is a devastating but absolutely brilliant novel. I’ll admit that the violence gave me nightmares (something that doesn’t happen very often at all), but I can’t remember the last time I was this immersed in a book, or this strongly reminded that all those news stories we hear about vaguely are things that actually happen to real human beings.

Paperback. Length: 543 pages. Publisher: Vintage Canada 2007. Source: Own. Setting: Early sixties to late sixties in Nigeria. Finished reading at: 30th September 2011.

About the writer:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born on 15 September 1977 in Enugu, Nigeria, the fifth of six children to Igbo parents, Grace Ifeoma and James Nwoye Adichie. While the family’s ancestral hometown is Abba in Anambra State, Chimamanda grew up in Nsukka, in the house formerly occupied by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. Chimamanda’s father, who is now retired, worked at the University of Nigeria, located in Nsukka. He was Nigeria’s first professor of statistics, and later became Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University. Her mother was the first female registrar at the same institution. Chimamanda completed her secondary education at the University’s school, receiving several academic prizes. She went on to study medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria for a year and a half. During this period, she edited The Compass, a magazine run by the University’s Catholic medical students.

At the age of nineteen, Chimamanda left for the United States. She gained a scholarship to study communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia for two years, and she went on to pursue a degree in communication and political science at Eastern Connecticut State University. While in Connecticut, she stayed with her sister Ijeoma, who runs a medical practice close to the university. Chimamanda graduated summa cum laude from Eastern in 2001, and then completed a master’s degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore and a masters degree in African Studies from Yale University.

Her earlier work set in Nigeria, Purple Hibiscus, won the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. It was also short listed for the Orange Prize.

The author has stated she believes that many of the issues that caused the war remain today. She further commented that the war is talked about “in uninformed and unimaginative ways,” and that the war is as important to the Igbo people her book features today as it was then. Because none of the major political events were changed in the book, Adichie said that the book contained “emotional truth,” and that the book showed the war had a significant impact upon the people of Nigeria.

Adichie has an illustrious career for such a young age, click here to read more about it.

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

20 thoughts on “Half of the Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  1. This book has been on my tbr too long. I wish I could have read it with this group but I will read it very soon. I didn’t expect it would be a happy book and I’m glad I am prepared for violence and heartbreak from reading your review. I want to know about Nigeria and the Nigerian-Biafran War of which I know virtually nothing and about the 60s and 70s in Nigeria. I have read many reviews of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and look forward to her beautiful prose and terrific narrative. The characters sound riveting and intriguing, Olanna and Kainene with their loving/hating relationship sound like most twins I know. I love that Ygwu the 13-year old is the cook!
    Thank you for your wonderful review and snippets of Amy’s and other blogger’s review. I am very anxious to read this book soon now!

    Posted by Amy | October 1, 2011, 10:07 pm
    • Amy,
      Thank you for your first comment here. This book has been one of those who sits on my TBR for too long as well, so that I’m glad I read it! 🙂
      Speaking about Adichie prose, I just picked out “The thing around your neck” yesterday and set about reading it now and I must say this one is more fluid than her full novels and I thought she is really great in short stories. Thank you so much for your kind words. Hope you are back here again! 😉

      Posted by JoV | October 2, 2011, 11:02 am
  2. I have had a e book of this for some time and hope to read it soon-your post is really well done as always-it also reminded me I wanted to also participate in Nigerian Literature day-I did a post on a short story “Marriage is a Private Affair” by Chinua Achebe” for the event thanks to your reminder.

    Posted by Mel u | October 1, 2011, 10:35 pm
    • Mel,
      I am very glad I read it and went out yesterday and brought back Adichie’s short story “The Thing around your neck” from the library. I think she write very good short stories which I think you may be interested as well. I hope I have the chance to read “Things fall apart” by Chinua Achebe. Heard so much about the man, it will be great achievement to read his books! I hope you get around reading the ebook soon on Half of the Yellow Sun!

      Posted by JoV | October 2, 2011, 11:08 am
  3. (She’s so pretty. I wish I looked like her.) I’m thinking of proposing this for my book club for our November read.

    Posted by Jenny | October 1, 2011, 11:00 pm
    • Jenny,
      She is, isn’t she? She has this almond shaped eyes and beautiful smile. I hope you can pick this up for your book club. The thing I don’t join book club is I read books that I don’t want to read, especially those which are imposed by book club, but I hope you impose this one on your book club though! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | October 2, 2011, 11:09 am
  4. I’ve only read her Purple Hibiscus but loved it. Now there’s already two more books by her and my library actually has them. Have to wait to be in the mood for heartbreaking though 😉

    Posted by Bina | October 7, 2011, 4:12 pm
    • Bina,
      Adichie is one of those writer’s whose names just kept popping up in blogopshere, used bookstores and library for me. Once I finished reading this book I felt as if I have achieved something big and put it behind me and now I could move on. I’m reading her “The thing around your neck” short stories collections and I really, really love it! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | October 7, 2011, 7:06 pm
      • Definitely an achievement and it’s wonderful to see you going through a ton of books, now I just have to try to keep up with your posts 😀
        It’s a collection of short stories? I didn’t even know that, shame on me. My tbr list is growing at a terrifying pace and I’ve come to call it my unemployment reading list. Once I graduate I assume I’ll have lots of time for reducing that list 😀

        Posted by Bina | October 7, 2011, 8:02 pm
        • Bina,
          I strongly advise you do away with your unemployment reading list. I had an unemployment list in 2008 and that’s what really made me stayed “Unemployed”! as I was too absorbed in books to do any serious job hunting. I don’t want that to happen to you! 😉

          It is a short stories. I really really like you to read about Adichie’s “The Thing around your neck.” It’s absolutely brilliant. 😀

          Posted by JoV | October 7, 2011, 9:41 pm
  5. Adichie is one of the my favorite authors. I loved this book as well – but I love the way you pick lines from books that make me wonder now why didn’t I notice that! I love this line – She thought about how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery. She would move back to Odenigbo’s house

    How true is that. And so hard.

    Posted by Soul Muser | October 8, 2011, 10:54 am
    • Soul,
      I thought the saying “Not choosing misery” is a very powerful word and if we try to live by it perhaps then we won’t be drag down by misery and sorrow and became “disabled” to do anything useful in life.

      Posted by JoV | October 9, 2011, 8:13 pm
  6. Read and thoroughly enjoyed her other novel, Purple Hibiscus. For some strange reason, I cannot seem to get past the first 10 pages of this book. I will try again this year. It cannot possibly be the subject matter nor her writing, which I really like.

    Posted by Kinna | October 10, 2011, 8:23 am
    • Kinna,
      Guess what I have got Purple Hisbiscus on my pile now. I just love her short stories “The Thing Around Your neck” I thought it was sad and very inspiring. I hope you read this book soon and I can’t wait to hear what you think about it! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | October 10, 2011, 3:07 pm
  7. One of the aspects of this book that I really appreciated was that I found it didn’t matter which character was at the heart of the section I was reading; I found them all very interesting and just wanted to keep reading reading reading. (Although, of course there are parts which do really make you want to stop reading too, which is something else entirely because she’s done such a great job that you can’t help but feel the horrifying parts intensely too.)

    Posted by BuriedInPrint | October 17, 2011, 7:30 pm
  8. Great book even though i aint read it yet i mean d summary is awesome makes me wanna read d book

    Posted by Tosin | April 18, 2012, 6:19 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Nigerian Independence Day Reading Project Wrap-Up « Amy Reads - October 7, 2011

  2. Pingback: September: A month I can’t quite remember « Bibliojunkie - October 10, 2011

  3. Pingback: Recently Abandoned Books « Ardent Reader - July 7, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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