Ian's Reviews > Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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Mar 10, 12

bookshelves: a-kindle, war, atw80, family-relationships, favourites, historical-fiction, modern-novel
Read from March 02 to 09, 2012

The Biafran war and the associated famine was probably the first time that such matters entered my head as a child. In 1969 (when I was 10), Blue Peter (a kid's TV programme in the UK)aired a piece on the suffering of children in the war and asked it's young viewers to collect old clothes and send them to to the programme. The clothes were then converted into cash somehow, and the eventual result of the appeal was several emergency medical trucks, subsequently sent to Biafra to help child victims. All of this then dropped from sight for me as I returned to just being a football mad kid.

Forty three years later, reading this novel has not only brought those childhood memories back, of hassling my mum to fill up a bag with old clothes, but more importantly filled me in on what actually happened during that period and has once again made me feel ashamed of my nationality.

The novel begins 6 years after Nigeria achieved post colonial independence from Britain in 1960. Like most African states, the country's borders took no account of tribal or ethnic divisions but were just a function of the earlier land grab of the colonial powers. As a result, ethnic and regional tensions came to the fore in 1966, with 2 military coups. The first by a group of Southern,Igbo tribe, Christian officers was followed by one led by Northern, primarily Muslim officers. In the ensuing chaos, it is is estimated that 30,000 Igbo were killed in the North and there were mass panicked evacuations to south of the River Niger. The secessionist state of Biafra was subsequently declared in the southern area.

The novel has five main characters and is narrated by three of them. Olanna is the privileged daughter of wealthy parents and whilst expected to make a marriage of convenience to further her parents social position, she chooses instead to live with Odenigbo, a professor of mathematics, who is filled with revolutionary zeal. The second voice we hear is that of Ugwu who is the 13 year old houseboy of Odenigbo. Finally there is Richard, an idealistic Englishman who is in love with both Africa and Olanna's sister Kainene, who runs her father's businesses. It is therefore a middle class view of the conflict, with even Ugwu looking at the war oftentimes through the eyes of his employers as he grows towards manhood.

The author draws the characters beautifully, so that very early on, one is drawn into their world and one really, really cares what happens to them. As the war progresses, as the death toll rises, as the hunger and famine become more intense, the characters are on a journey. Literally in terms of their physical location, social status and physical condition, but also emotionally and spiritually as they are tested in so many ways, with each having to compromise part of their soul to survive.

I found it a stunning and enlightening novel and in some ways it was similar to Abraham Verghese's Cutting for Stone. Perhaps the most vivid thing I will take from it, is not the disturbing visions of the refugee camps with the starving and dying children with distended stomachs, not the plight of the the child soldiers and not even the depiction of the mass graves. It will be Britain's sordid role in the conflict. Having started this review saying how I collected old clothes to help aid the victims of this war, I was surprised and deeply saddened to learn that Britain as the ex-colonial power, fearing that the new state of Biafra would compromise it's oil interests, was the primary arms supplier to the rump state of Nigeria, which then brutally crushed Biafra with the loss of 1 million lives. How history repeats itself. Yes the roots of the conflicts are different, but the primary reason for involvement both times was oil. For Harold Wilson read Tony Blair and for Biafra read Iraq. When will we ever learn?
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03/02/2012 page 22
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Joe (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joe Stamber Excellent review Ian, I found it to be a wonderful book too. Your words describe exactly how I felt as I read the book.


message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Thanks Joe.


message 3: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Great review Ian


message 4: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Thanks Sandra.


message 5: by Em (new) - added it

Em Excellent review and you've convinced me that I must, must make the time to read this book soon...


message 6: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Make that time Em.


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