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[207] Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Yellow“The North was wary: it feared domination from the more educated South and had always wanted a country separate from the infidel South anyway . . . the South, too, eager for independence, accepted this constitution . . . At Independence in 1960, Nigeria was a collection of fragments held in a fragile clasp.” [195]

In 1960, Nigeria decalred independence from Great Britain. But the once-colonized peoples and tribes, egged on and fueled by religious strife, chafe against the geographical boundaries that bind Nigeria together as one country. They battled over military leadership and ownership of oil. Set in this tumultous times is Adichie’s tale of twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, physically and temperamentally dissimilar, as the New York Times has quoted, who are from an elite Igbo family in the south. Olanna denies an offer of government job and takes up professorship in sociology at a suburban university, where she meets Odiengbo, who is an expansive revolutionary. Kainene falls in love with bashful and principled Richard, an Englishman who later takes up the Biafran cause.

They will take what you write more seriously because you are white. Look, the truth is that this is not your war. This is not your cause. Your government will evacuate you in a minute if you ask them to. So it is not enough to carry limp branches and shout power, power to show that you support Biafra. . .The world has to know the truth of what is happening, because they simply cannot remain silent while we die. [382-3]

When the fragile clasp that held these fragments of Nigeria began to snap, in 1967, the coop unleashed the 3-year Biafran War, which was almost unheard-of outside of Nigeria, if not Africa, that saw Muslim-dominated forces from the North laying seige to the Christian Igbo of the South, wrangling over power and control of national assets. The Brits were accused of instigating this domestic belligerency.

We are living in a time of great white evil. They are dehumanizing blacks in South Africa and Rhodesia, they fermented what happened in the Congo . . . This defense pact is worse than apartheid and segregation, but we don’t realize it. They are controlling us from behind drawn curtains. [140]

Coiled with a sense of racial inequality, the British is accused of not giving the African the benefit of an equal intelligence. In preserving Nigeria as it was, by fixing the “pre-Independence elections” in favor of the North, the Brits were only looking into its own interest, the huge import market they monopolized. As the clamor of fractious groups escalates to a war, a massacre, through the fates of Olanna and Kainene, as well as Odiengbo’s houseboy Ugwu, Adichie uses history to gain leverage on the present. It is interesting to note that Adichie is about the same age (or even younger) of Olanna’s daughter, Baby, in the novel, who is six when the Biafran War broke out. Since Adichie’s generation has been spared of the horrifying bloodshed and famine that would haunt her characters for years to come, she deftly embraces the turmoil of from her parent and grandparent generations (see dedication). Between occasionally slow narratives are horrifying details that jumpstart reader’s soul: Shards of shrapnel cutting off a servant’s head. A refuge woman carrying in a bowl her daughter’s head. A furious mother mistaking her daughter’s swollen belly as pregnancy. These are ordinary lives laid waste and exploited, almost forgotten in history. People are dying while the world remains silent.

These [British] policies manipulated the differences between the tribes and ensured that unity would not exist, thereby making the easy government of such a large country practicable. [209]

The heart of this novel is the betrayal that divides the sisters emotionally. They realize distrust would always lie between them, and disbelief always an option. As they respectively embrace the Biafran cause—feeding the starved, teaching the young, and fighting for relief, their struggle with checked mutual loyalty and the determination with which they cope the war show men’s weakness and irresponsibility. At the crossroad where public and private allegiances threaten to collide, the sisters show unmatched virtue and valor. At the time when they are left hanging in a national crisis, what have taken them over is their will to live, unadulterated, irresistible, pure.

541 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

27 Responses

  1. I really want to read this, though the subject matter is very sobering, so I haven’t been in quite the right mood yet. Have you read her other book?

  2. I was thinking about what you wrote. How the sisters embraced the Biafran cause while the men showed weakness and irresponsibility. And in all the time before the war, Odenigbo was the most passionate about the cause. It just goes to show how actions really do speak louder than words.

  3. Oh my goodness! I have had this book in my TBR list for forever. It just sounds so gripping! Thanks for the great review, and for the clips from the book. I hope to get to it soon.

  4. Sounds intriguing. In my quest for knowledge, I’ve tried to find books about as many different circumstances as I could. Sounds like “Half a Yellow Sun”, with its Nigerian focus, might be a good pick.

  5. This is one of my favorite reads from 2009, so far. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    I think Adichie is a little like Stephen Crane, writing about her grandfather’s war. Half of a Yellow Sun is a book that stays with the reader long after it’s finished.

  6. I loved this book, the writing was incredible and I loved how the strong the women were. I read her first, Purple Hibiscus, and it is good as well, though the second is my favorite. The first focuses on a young girl and her religious father. Both worth reading.

  7. I have this coming up to read soon, so I only skimmed here and will come back to read the full review when I’ve read the book. Glad to hear you loved it. I am so looking forward to this.

  8. I’m pleased that you enjoyed (if that is the right word?) this book. It is so interesting to read the way different people review this book. It is so rich that everyone seems to highlight different things.

    CBJames – I have never heard of Stephen Crane before – I’ll have to have a look for him.

  9. Like Jackie has commented, I have been a bit scared of the many details this book offers to its readers. But all the positive feedback here tells me I have to use some patience and care with this one. Excellent review as usual, so loquacious!

  10. One of these days, I’ve to pick up this book after hearing so many raves from you guys!

  11. Danielle:
    It’s sobering and graphically squeamish at some points. You will get your head full in this one for sure.

  12. Claire:
    Odenigbo is a coward to me. His words are bigger than his actions. And blaming his mother who has reigned a tight rope on him is no excuse. Kainene repudiated him telling her sister how blind she has been about him.

  13. Becky:
    I hope you enjoy this wonderful tale of a country’s heritage and how these women paid homage. It might be a bit sobering for Hawaii. 🙂

  14. Biblibio:
    You might also enjoy The Little Bee, which is based on Nigeria as well.

  15. CB James:
    It’s still haunting days after I have turned the last page. I’m very tempted with Purple Hibiscus, but I have to let my memory of the Biafran War soften a bit.

  16. cafeshree:
    Purple Hibicus is now on my radar. I love her writing style, so upfront and yet poetic.

  17. Rebecca @ The Book Lady’s Blog:
    I hope you enjoy reading the book, which takes a bit time and patience.

  18. Jackie (Farm Lane Books):
    I agree that you can interpret and discuss the many perspectives of this book. It’s perfect for a reading group.

  19. John:
    I think what makes me slow down is the missing gap between the early 60s and late 60s narratives…which are not immediately obvious and I had to go back and forth to discern what is missing.

  20. Melody:
    I agree you have to be in the right mood for this book. It’s a story of an epic scale. So grand and human.

  21. I enjoyed reading this post, and the one about your notebook as well. I have to dust this book off my shelves ; thanks

  22. Diane:
    Thank you Diane. I hope you enjoy reading Half of a Yellow Sun, which to me has achieved an epic scale.

  23. […] [207] Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie […]

  24. I have this book for my Book Award Reading Challenge.I bought it a few days back and I am really looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the review..

  25. […] far this year has seen the completion of some books with daunting size: Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (541 pages) Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham (678 […]

  26. This book is on my list of all time favourites

  27. It is exhausting to seek out educated individuals on this matter, but you sound like you understand what you’re speaking about! Thanks

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