Samadrita's Reviews > Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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It came to me as an epiphany as I barreled through the last few pages of this book, blanketed in my Sunday evening lethargy, marveling at Adichie's graceful evocation of a forgotten time and place and feeling the embarrassment of having known nothing about the Biafran war, that somewhere in the Gaza strip the maimed bodies of children must lie strewn amidst the debris of their former lives while vicious debates rage on twitter in which people pick a side - Israel or Hamas - to defend from criticism. As if that's what matters.

Somewhere at this very moment there may be a terror-stricken, weeping child, fleeing to find cover, unaware of what she is running from, unaware of the finality of death, shielded by the caprices of the same history she is living, perhaps. Someday she may grow up well to become another Chimamanda to write the story which is hers to tell, and time, circumstances, and health permitting, I am going to be reading that book and be reminded of the umpteenth 'war' that not even my generation of enlightened, Nobel-peace-prize winning heads of state did enough to prevent, the damage that could have been preempted, and the children who could have grown up to carry the weight of civilization some day but didn't.

The farce of this relentless cycle of mayhem, killing, pillage, rape, and starvation will hit us time and again and yet leaders of the first world will continue to look dapper in their crisp suits and appear dignified while justifying their sale of high-tech weapons to warring parties because revenue is to be earned from the spilling of blood. For the sake of self-made demarcations, for the sake of that ridiculous nonentity called national pride, for the sake of righting wrongs done in the past we'll bury our children and future in mass graves and commit more wrongs.

This book deserves 4 stars in my eyes. It's not a flawlessly written work with its frequent straying into the territory of melodramatic personal relationships and cliched characterization and Adichie's writing seems to lack polish in places. But in no way does that stop this from being a highly important work of fiction that the annals of literature ought to acknowledge with a gleaming appraisal.

This is the past transcending the barriers of time to appear before us in a surely pale imitation of its true grotesqueness. This is Adichie leading us to history of a corner of the world we only associate with food programs, the UNHCR, unstable governments and inexorable ethnic conflicts. This is Adichie telling us that history ignored isn't history blotted out.

I didn't know Biafra at all; there are not enough books on Biafra (as confirmed by Goodreads and Google Books), because only those horrors of war survive oblivion which are fortunate enough to receive the world media's stamp of approval. Not all death and devastation caused by 'civil wars' are worthy of the glory of 'crimes against humanity' like Nigeria's smooth war tactic of starving Biafran children with tacit British support wasn't.
"Starvation propelled aid organizations to sneak-fly food into Biafra at night since both sides could not agree on routes. Starvation aided the careers of photographers. And starvation made the International Red Cross call Biafra its gravest emergency since the Second World War."

But there was a Biafra. Not the transient existence of the nation represented by half of a yellow sun but the reality of the people who, in the paroxysms of misguided idealism, picked the losing side in a war.
Chimamanda's Olanna, Ugwu and Richard, all of whom weave their way in and out of manifold conflicts of morality, identity, and survival, serve as our guides in this landscape of kwashiorkor-plagued children with pot bellies while trying to make sense of the muddle of mutual Hausa-Yoruba-Igbo animosity. And along with them the reader navigates the maze of wartime barbarity, political allegiances, and interpersonal relationships with a growing sense of unease and uncertainty - who are the ones truly responsible? who are the perpetrators? who are the victims? what was the war for and what did it achieve?
"Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved. But it was not grief that Olanna felt, it was greater than grief. It was stranger than grief."

In the end any such attempt at such neat compartmentalization makes little difference to the truth of lives destroyed in a fit of murderous passion. In all likelihood, there will be more Biafras and Srebrenicas and Rwanda-Burundis and Syrias and Gazas as there will be the burden of future tragedy and loss to be borne by hapless survivors. But there's the small assurance that there will be the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichies of the world to give a human face to the solemn formality of statistics every time.
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Reading Progress

January 16, 2013 – Shelved
January 16, 2013 – Shelved as: african-literature
February 21, 2013 – Shelved as: 1001-and-more
April 21, 2013 – Shelved as: by-women-who-matter
February 15, 2014 – Shelved as: nigeria
June 4, 2014 – Shelved as: baileys-prize
July 24, 2014 – Started Reading
July 24, 2014 –
2.0% ""There are two answers to the things they will teach you about our land: the real answer and the answer you give in school to pass. You must read books and learn both answers.""
July 24, 2014 – Shelved as: racism-slavery-post-colonial
July 25, 2014 – Shelved as: bygones-are-never-bygones
July 25, 2014 – Shelved as: wars-coups-fascism-oppression
July 29, 2014 –
8.0% ""She was used to this, being grabbed by men who walked around in a cloud of cologne-drenched entitlement, with the presumption that, because they were powerful and found her beautiful, they belonged together.""
July 30, 2014 –
16.0% ""Socialism would never work for the Igbo." [] "Ogbenyealu is a common name for girls and you know what it means? 'Not to Be Married to a Poor Man.'""
July 30, 2014 – Shelved as: don-t-melt-my-melting-pot
July 30, 2014 –
24.0% ""It was her right to be upset, her right to choose not to brush her humiliation aside in the name of an overexalted intellectualism, and she would claim that right.""
July 31, 2014 –
38.0% ""He had been caught up in himself, in thinking that his coming was enough, that he would be the magnanimous angel who brought the last hours of their son to them and, by doing so, would assuage their grief and redeem himself. But to them he was just like any other person who had come to pay condolences. His visit made no difference to the only reality that mattered: their son was gone.""
July 31, 2014 –
54.0% ""Starvation made the people of the world take notice and sparked protests and demonstrations in London and Moscow and Czechoslovakia. Starvation made Zambia and Tanzania and Ivory Coast and Gabon recognize Biafra, starvation brought Africa into Nixon's American campaign and made parents all over the world tell their children to eat up.""
August 1, 2014 –
75.0% ""We never actively remember death. (...) The reason we live as we do is because we do not remember that we will die. We will all die.""
August 3, 2014 – Shelved as: cherished
August 3, 2014 – Shelved as: adoration
August 3, 2014 – Finished Reading
June 6, 2015 – Shelved as: the-empire-writes-back

Comments Showing 1-50 of 69 (69 new)


Cheryl Yay!! I sense a review somewhere in the distance...


message 2: by Fionnuala (last edited Aug 04, 2014 12:30AM) (new)

Fionnuala Samadrita, you speak for many of us, and you speak so well: and yet leaders of the first world will continue to look dapper in their crisp suits and appear dignified while justifying their sale of high-tech weapons to warring parties because revenue is to be earned from the spilling of blood.
I wish you may be heard.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Very, very well put.


message 4: by Cheryl (last edited Aug 03, 2014 12:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cheryl Yes, arm rebels to perform coup d'etats and then look away, and then bar all exits from these war-torn countries and let these rebels terrorize innocent men, women, and children...let children become separated from parents...and much more.

You say it so perfectly and words cannot even express how happy I am that you read and reviewed this book because you always manage to gracefully impart your reading experience with your GR community.

Yes, I also hope that every Chimamanda can tell the story she heard from her parents before her. That every Chinua Achebe can tell the story he lived through. That writers from war-torn countries can rise up and put a face to travesties that oftentimes get skipped over in major historical records.


message 5: by Praj (last edited Aug 03, 2014 01:00PM) (new)

Praj For the sake of self-made demarcations, for the sake of that ridiculous nonentity called national pride, for the sake of righting wrongs done in the past we'll bury our children and future in mass graves and commit more wrongs.

The image created by these words is horrifying. Shudders right though my sanity. And sadly it is a roaring fact.

Magnificent writing, chinguya! It is simply wonderful to see you exploring the essentials of African Lit. I have being only scouting the surface and need to dig deeper in the glorious depths of the African Lit. Gomawo, uri jjang jjang dongsaeng :)


message 6: by Dolors (last edited Aug 03, 2014 02:35PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dolors I read this novel many years ago and I remember the terror, the incomprehension, the disbelief of the horrendous events seen through the eyes of Adichie's characters. Maalouf's essay on the need to tame the murderous aspect of identity seems so idealistic when faced with the complexity of hatred rekindled through generations of Western abuse and a "moral" that obeys only to economics and geopolitical dominance.
May your last paragraph be spread like gospel so the Biafras of the world don't go unnoticed and the faceless victims become our closest kin. Don't ever cease writing, denouncing and unfolding unpleasant truths with your painful words Sama, for they hurt and heal at once.


message 7: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Very nice, Samadrita.


message 8: by Gregsamsa (new)

Gregsamsa Samadrita wrote: "...leaders of the first world will continue to look dapper in their crisp suits and appear dignified while justifying their sale of high-tech weapons to warring parties because revenue is to be earned from the spilling of blood."

Perfect. I love how people ordinarily opposed to the very idea of government money being spent to create jobs will defend exorbitant arms expenditures with that magic transcendental justification: "Jobs!" Lesson: government jobs programs are OK as long as they produce something lucrative and lethal.

I didn't know anything about Biafra either until I learned why the punk singer Jello Biafra named himself that.


Nicole~ Excellent review, Samadrita! I loved this story. I'm quite mesmerized by Chimamada's lyrical voice, and mean to read Purple Hibiscus soon.There's a kindle 'short' you might like, it's maybe 20 + pages or so, called " We Should All Be Feminists."


Samadrita Fionnuala wrote: "Samadrita, you speak for many of us, and you speak so well: and yet leaders of the first world will continue to look dapper in their crisp suits and appear dignified while justifying their sale of ..."

Thank you, Fio. I am not sure if any of us will be heard but that shouldn't stop us from stating what we think.


Samadrita Lauren wrote: "Very, very well put."

Glad you think so, Lauren.


Samadrita Cheryl wrote: "Yes, arm rebels to perform coup d'etats and then look away, and then bar all exits from these war-torn countries and let these rebels terrorize innocent men, women, and children...let children beco..."

Yes next stop is Achebe's account of the Biafran war but I must read some more African lit before (I've read too much Achebe as it is) - Wole Soyinka could be the natural choice. And Aubrey's and your enthusiasm made me get to this one sooner. Thank you for waiting for a review and commenting on it, Cheryl.


Samadrita Praj wrote: "For the sake of self-made demarcations, for the sake of that ridiculous nonentity called national pride, for the sake of righting wrongs done in the past we'll bury our children and future in mass ..."

You are the jjang unni here. :D And I haven't even scraped the surface of African lit but I am giddy with the anticipation of discovering so much literature from the continent I know almost nothing about. Thank you as ever. :)


Nidhi Singh Stunning, powerful, review. Brought back to me the experience of reading this, and it has been so effectively articulated in your writing.


Samadrita Dolors wrote: "Maalouf's essay on the need to tame the murderous aspect of identity seems so idealistic when faced with the complexity of hatred rekindled through generations of Western abuse and a "moral" that obeys only to economics and geopolitical dominance."

That's a spot-on inference, Dolors. I realize I must procure Maalouf's nonfiction sooner rather than later (thank you once again for pointing it out to me). And you're the one whose words, imbued with a rare kindness and sympathy, are truly capable of soothing and healing. Thank you as always for reading and leaving your wonderfully enlightening thoughts on subjects so varied and complex.


Samadrita Steve wrote: "Very nice, Samadrita."

Thank you, Steve.


Samadrita Gregsamsa wrote: "Samadrita wrote: "...leaders of the first world will continue to look dapper in their crisp suits and appear dignified while justifying their sale of high-tech weapons to warring parties because re..."

Would you believe I found Jello Biafra while searching for more books on the topic? I knew it had to be a nickname like Noviolet Bulawayo's (she was shortlisted for the Booker last year). And I guess the seller of arms is just as bad as the buyer who keeps the business of the former afloat - we're the world's largest arms importer. Go figure!


Samadrita Nicole~ wrote: "Excellent review, Samadrita! I loved this story. I'm quite mesmerized by Chimamada's lyrical voice, and mean to read Purple Hibiscus soon.There's a kindle 'short' you might like, it's maybe 20 + pa..."

I heard of that kindle short but stopped short of requesting it on NG since I have so many unopened books left to read and review. But I'll get it anyway. Thank you for reading, Nicole.


Samadrita Nidhi wrote: "Stunning, powerful, review. Brought back to me the experience of reading this, and it has been so effectively articulated in your writing."

Thank you, Nidhi. Glad you felt so.


message 20: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· Powerful, heartfelt, and beautifully rendered. Your review.


Cheryl Powerful review, Samadrita. What a thought, that out of those atrocities in Gaza there will be literature to bear witness, and it will be read, and perhaps, maybe, there will be atonement.


message 22: by Garima (new)

Garima Excellent review, Samadrita. You said all the right things in a right way and highlighted everything that is wrong with this world. It's baffling that sides are taken by the common public (no comments about Govt. officials) on the basis of they-supported-us-during-this n that-war-by-supplying-arms. Oh well, the damn fairness and all that! I have little idea about Biafra but need to read more on it along with this book of course.


Samadrita Louisa wrote: "This is the past transcending the barriers of time to appear before us in a surely pale imitation of its true grotesqueness. This is Adichie leading us to history of a corner of the world we only a..."

Thank you as always, Louisa. Glad you agree. Americanah (let me dig out your review) is on my list and I am also going to be putting Purple Hibiscus on the tbr as well.


Samadrita ·Karen· wrote: "Powerful, heartfelt, and beautifully rendered. Your review."

Thank you much, Karen.

(P.S.:-Great to see you back! *waves*)


Samadrita Cheryl wrote: "Powerful review, Samadrita. What a thought, that out of those atrocities in Gaza there will be literature to bear witness, and it will be read, and perhaps, maybe, there will be atonement."

That's the only thought that consoles me. It's like nothing changes with the world despite all those tough words about 'lessons learnt' from so and so war of the past. Thank you for reading, Cheryl.


Samadrita Garima wrote: "Excellent review, Samadrita. You said all the right things in a right way and highlighted everything that is wrong with this world. It's baffling that sides are taken by the common public (no comme..."

Thank you, Garima. The list of things in this world which do not make sense is a long one indeed. But thankfully we have books like this one to remind us of our own foolishness.


message 27: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira Excellent really doesn't cover this review; it's breathtakingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing.


message 28: by Pam (new) - added it

Pam Geemul You have such a way with words Samadrita. I admire(envy)this talent of yours! glorious review!


Samadrita Ivonne wrote: "Excellent really doesn't cover this review; it's breathtakingly beautiful. Thank you for sharing."

Thank you, Ivonne, for reading.


Samadrita Pam wrote: "You have such a way with words Samadrita. I admire(envy)this talent of yours! glorious review!"

Glad you think so, Pam. Thank you.


message 31: by Ted (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ted Very powerful writing, Samadrita. A wonderful review/essay.


Samadrita Ted wrote: "Very powerful writing, Samadrita. A wonderful review/essay."

Thank you, Ted. Happy you liked it.


message 33: by Jill (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jill You've convinced me to make this my next Adichie read! Like you, I don't know anything about the Biafran War and definitely want to rectify that. I'll have to wait until I read it but it appears that Adichie's earlier work, including this, is much more Nigerian-centric. Americanah was great, but I learned less about Nigeria and its people and history than I did about America as seen by an outsider.

Lovely review, and I appreciated the tie to the current situation in Gaza.


Samadrita Jill wrote: "You've convinced me to make this my next Adichie read! Like you, I don't know anything about the Biafran War and definitely want to rectify that. I'll have to wait until I read it but it appears th..."

This one is also wholly Nigeria-centric (although most of the characters are privileged and Western-educated). I already have Americanah on the list and I will add the rest of her works as well. There's something about her narrative voice that makes me crave for more.
Glad you liked the review, Jill. Thank you.


message 35: by Agnieszka (new) - added it

Agnieszka Heartfelt and moving , Sam !


message 36: by Erwin (new) - added it

Erwin Great review, Samadrita!


Samadrita @Aga & Erwin:- Thank you!


message 38: by Rakhi (new)

Rakhi Dalal The farce of this relentless cycle of mayhem, killing, pillage, rape, and starvation will hit us time and again and yet leaders of the first world will continue to look dapper in their crisp suits and appear dignified while justifying their sale of high-tech weapons to warring parties because revenue is to be earned from the spilling of blood.

It is a true and sad state of the World that we inhabit today.I wonder what it would be like for the generations to come. Do we want our kids to grow in such times which propagate hatred and violence? But then, hasn't the world always been like this?

Quite thought provoking review,Samadrita.


message 39: by Himanshu (new) - added it

Himanshu Here's joining in with others: May your voice be heard.


Samadrita @Rakhi:-Yes it is sad indeed. Glad you found it thought-provoking though. Thank you!

@Himanshu:-Thank you. It's immensely gratifying to be considered worthy of being heard.


Giedre Thank you for this powerful review, Samadrita! I really love to discover new books and authors through your watchful and attentive eyes, as you are always looking for those unseen and unheard by the masses.

I also liked your approach, where you seem to review the world itself, and not only the book.


message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

Your review is a cry of the heart for flesh and blood humanity that is sacrificed repeatedly or tossed around like pebbles for abstract notions of various ideologies or nationalism. To my own shame, was only vague aware of Biafran War and the countless humans consumed by it.


message 43: by Steve (new)

Steve I was going to leave a simple comment about how "powerful" your review was, Samadrita. Then I thought I better read a few of the other comments just to see how redundant I may be. At the halfway point I thought I could use it, then, BAM, all of the sudden there were four in rapid succession. (Great minds, right?) Now I'm torn between "forceful" and "cogent". In any case, thank you for opening our eyes to this terrible tragedy.


Samadrita Giedre wrote: "Thank you for this powerful review, Samadrita! I really love to discover new books and authors through your watchful and attentive eyes, as you are always looking for those unseen and unheard by th..."

Thank you, Giedre. I guess some books are such that the impact they have on the reader psyche helps write the review itself. Glad you liked it.


Samadrita sckenda wrote: "Your review is a cry of the heart for flesh and blood humanity that is sacrificed repeatedly or tossed around like pebbles for abstract notions of various ideologies or nationalism. To my own shame..."

At least there are books like this one to help rectify our ignorance. Thank you for having such kind words for my reviews, Steve.


message 46: by Samadrita (last edited Aug 05, 2014 11:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Samadrita Steve wrote: "I was going to leave a simple comment about how "powerful" your review was, Samadrita. Then I thought I better read a few of the other comments just to see how redundant I may be. At the halfway ..."

Haha like Fionnuala once said 'GR is a country rich in hyperbolic deposits'. But this is why I think adjectives aren't as important as furthering the discussion on a book is. And in this respect, you always manage to add something new and interesting to the comments section, Steve. Thank you for reading.


message 47: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira sckenda wrote: "Your review is a cry of the heart for flesh and blood humanity that is sacrificed repeatedly or tossed around like pebbles for abstract notions of various ideologies or nationalism. To my own shame..."

Samadrita is not the only one with a way with words. How beautifully phrased!


message 48: by Ivonne (last edited Aug 06, 2014 02:56AM) (new)

Ivonne Rovira Samadrita, of course, you write beautiful reviews. But I also have to thank you for finding pearls that I would never have run across. With millions and millions of books out there -- so many of them dross -- serve as a guidepost to help us navigate through the clutter.

There! Did I mix enough metaphors? ;-)


Samadrita Ivonne wrote: "sckenda wrote: "Your review is a cry of the heart for flesh and blood humanity that is sacrificed repeatedly or tossed around like pebbles for abstract notions of various ideologies or nationalism...."

Steve writes the most emotionally affecting reviews in his eloquent, inimitable style, Ivonne. And the GR community would have been poorer in the absence of his invaluable contributions.

And thank you for your charming comments, Ivonne. You always brighten our days with your pleasant demeanour. :)


Emily Great review


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