Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
|Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
|Category: Literary Fiction
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy
|Summary: Ambitious, evocative and heartbreaking, Half of a Yellow Sun is a courageous novel, full of integrity. More than a historical record, it also has resonance for current world issues. It's only let down very slightly by a rather self-conscious structure.
|Date: January 2007
A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book
Half of a Yellow Sun is the story of the years leading up to and the course of the Nigeria-Biafra war of the late 1960s. Following a failed coup, Nigeria's Igbo population, centred in the east of the country, seceded to form a proto-independent state called Biafra. During the war for secession Britain and the Soviet Union provided considerable military assistance to Nigeria and in the ensuing conflict, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in fighting, under bombs and to starvation.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel follows three characters through the chaos: Ugwu, the houseboy of an Igbo university lecturer, Olanna, the partner of the lecturer and member of one of the families of the Igbo business elite and Richard, a white man in love with Olanna's twin sister and more at home in Biafra than he had ever been in England. The book is vast. Through its characters, it deals with tribal enmities, colonial and post colonial sins, the ineffectiveness of aid, disease, politics, propaganda, child soldiering, the brutality of war, grief and famine. All these themes are blended seamlessly into a gripping narrative in a strong and powerful voice. On the cover of Half of a Yellow Sun, Edmund White is quoted as saying
I look with awe and envy at this young woman from Africa who is recording the history of her country.
I do too. Despite knowing the history all too well, I was turning pages furiously, I'd developed such an emotional investment in Ugwu and Olanna and Richard. There is a vast array of characters, every one of them fleshed-out, every one of them interesting and credible. The descriptions of the people, their culture and traditions, their beliefs, immersed me and educated me and for a short time, I felt as though I understood what it was to be each of these three people. It's strong, forceful and evocative - everything you could want a novel to be. And the prose is faultless.
If I had a criticism to make of Half of a Yellow Sun it would be about its structure. Adichie has chosen three narrators and although I prefer to get into the skin of just one person when I'm reading, I can see that these very different points of view were a vital part of the novel. However, the book is rigidly structured between them - a chapter each by turns, no exceptions - and I felt very aware of the device, which distracted my attention. In one of the middle sections, the timeline is disrupted and we return to an explanation of events from an earlier section. I could probably have coped with either the rigid treatment of the various narrators or a disrupted timeline, but the inclusion of both just irritated me and did distract from from my enjoyment of and immersion in an otherwise fine, fine novel.
About a million people died in Biafra during its few years of secession. Kwashiorkor, the malnutrition caused by protein deficiency, was rife among children. According to Adichie, Biafrans nicknamed it the Harold Wilson Disease, a mocking reference to the aid given by Britain to the Nigerian forces against the secessionists. Just one more thing in our colonial and post-colonial history of which we should feel ashamed.
Do read Half of a Yellow Sun. Minor irritations within the structure notwithstanding, it is a powerful, evocative book, written with wisdom and passion. It will teach you something.
Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard also sees war from an individual perspective and Peter Godwin's Mukiwa looks at the colonial legacy in African conflicts. We think you'll also enjoy Servants of the Underground by David Ssembajjo.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is in the Top Ten Books For Your Auntie.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is in the Top Ten War Novels.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is in the Top Ten Books About Africa.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Amazon.com.
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Colin Cameron said:
Magnificent and truly moving, certainly worth a second read. As good as The Poisonwood Bible, and all the better for coming from an African voice.