Sandhya's Reviews > Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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Jul 24, 2007

really liked it
Recommended for: Anyone who likes a heart-felt, informative read
Read in July, 2007

The Biafran civil war, a terrible blot on Nigerian history and humanity, has not surprisingly, found voice in almost all major literary works produced in the country so far. Adichie was not born when the war happened but says that she grew up in its shadows and could never forget how she lost several of her family members to a situation, which was entirely man-made. This naturally, allows the author to recount incidents with unusual fervour, giving graphic images of the horrors that descended on Biafrans, following the breakout of military action.
So what was this civil was about? Well, much like the pattern that Britishers followed for India, they simply clubbed together the regions they held in part of Africa, consisting of people of diverse races and religions, and called it Nigeria at the time of its independence.
While the Housa Muslim tribe populated Northern Nigeria, the South consisted of the Igbo, a Christian race. Ever since the country got freedom in 1960, there was deep resentment brewing between the Housa and other tribes who believed that the Igbos held all the prime positions in the country. A military coup by an Igbo colonel follows a counter coup by the Northern army, supported by the West. Soon, Igbo soldiers are brutally murdered all over the northern territory. Col Ojukwu, puts forth the idea of a separate Igbo state called Baifra and takes control of all the oil rich territories. The Nigerian government is not willing to take the rebellion lying down and what follows is a deadly war, which tests its victims in a shockingly inhuman way.
Even as the Nigerian army captures one Biafran region after another, the Igbo population is pushed into a corner, literally and all food links are blocked, leading to intense starvation with people scrambling for food. So while people in other parts of Nigeria worry about silk laces and their golf sessions, the other part scrambles for dried lizards and crickets to eat!

This is the story Adichie narrates in her book and she does it through the lives of four people living in Nigeria. The author’s central characters are twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, daughters of a rich businessman. However, none of them are especially interested in their father’s wealth and choose their own paths. While Olanna starts living in with prof Odenigbo, her anti-colonial, ‘revolutionary boyfriend’ ---as the brazen Kainene prefers to call him, the latter herself dates Richard, a bashful British expatriate, who is sympathetic to the Biafra cause.
To give a glimpse of the colonial Nigeria that still existed, the author introduces us to Ugwu, a teenager, who is brought from his village to be a housekeeper to ‘master’ Odenigbo.

The book starts in the early 60’s, a comparably idyllic time when Odenigbo’s friends come over each evening and engage in heated, intellectual debates. In the dim-lit room, amidst the clinging of beer bottles and exotic, herbal stews, it’s a time, when the generation’s finest brains are working out Nigeria’s future.
The coup throws the characters apart. Ollana and Odenigbo first move into a humble three-room house, quite content as long as they know they are part of the Biafra cause. But as the Nigerian army closes in, the couple, with a child (Odenigbo’s illegitimate one) in tow and Ugwu, find it find it impossible to retain even a semblance of dignity to their lives.

To the author’s credit, she weaves this long forgotten human-interest story, with a sultry, lush family tale, about love, betrayal and redemption. In fact, Adichie is clearly at her best here.

...for a detailed review of the book, please do visit me on my blog, sandyi.blogspot.com


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message 1: by Qalandar (new)

Qalandar Recently completed this book, thanks very much for introducing me to it! I found the book very moving, in large part because of Adichie's talent for vivid characterization: unlike many novels one reads, this one is populated by a number of characters who leap off the page, including ones (such as Olanna's cousin, aunt and uncle) who make only fleeting appearances). That being said, I probably would have liked to see the relationship of the sisters Olanna and Kainene explored more.

In contrast to many "post-colonial" writers, I appreciated Adichie's ability to evoke the complex political landscape of Biafra/Nigeria WITHOUT giving off the air of a lesson in political anthropology for "foreign" audiences. "Real world" events happen in a very natural way in this book.


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