Friday, December 5, 2008

Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a beautiful, tremendously sad book to read. Sad because while the characters are all so hopeful, the reader knows how the story historically ends. This is a story of the Nigerian Civil War, or the Nigerian-Biafran War, a war that took place in the late 1960's. Biafra seceded from Nigeria in 1967, a fact that causes much joy among the characters of Half of a Yellow Sun. However, most people who read this book will know that the war caused tremendous suffering, in terms of the violence, starvation, and sickness that it caused, and Biafra does not win the war. But even in the worst of times, the Biafrans believe they will be vindicated.
The story is told from three different points of view - Ugwu, Olanna, and Richard being the focus of the third person perspectives. Ugwu is the house boy of Odenigbo, a radical professor who believes in secession and thinks that Europe should leave the Africans to govern themselves. He sends Ugwu back to school, even though he is older than all the other children, and encourages him to read as much as he can - he is never treated as just a servant. Olanna is Odenigbo's lover. She is from a relatively wealthy family, was schooled in London, and has joined Odenigbo at the university where he teaches. Richard is a British man who is in Nigeria because he is fascinated by tribal art. He is the lover of Kainene, who is Olanna's twin. He also participates in the life of the university, and so becomes part of the group that spends time at Odenigbo's house, when he is not staying with Kainene. These three characters, while their stories intertwine and overlap in time, each tell a different part of the story. Ugwu and Olanna are in the same house, yet their stories are very different, as they have separate responsibilities, friends, and circles of acquaintances. As the war begins, this story structure works very well for describing the events and experiences of the Biafrans of all different walks of life.
This is definitely one of those books that stays with you after you put it down. Even while I was reading it, I was haunted by that image of a rising sun. It brings so much hope to those fighting for their independence, yet the reader knows that in the end, Biafra does not succeed. The imagery created by that half of a yellow sun, which appears everywhere, is hauntingly beautiful. The choices that Adichie makes with her characters also strengthen the story. I had wondered to myself why central characters like Odenigbo and Kainene weren't also used to tell the story from their perspective, but I think that their voices would not have had the same expression as the three main characters. Odenigbo is too confident, unwilling to show any weakness, while Kainene is too jaded and bitter, with her hope buried deep. It is interesting to imagine how the story would be different from their points of view. This would be an amazing choice for a book club - already I find myself unable to stop talking about it once I get started. So I think I will stop now, with this recommendation - read this book.


Charley said...

I have this on my list already, but after reading your review, I think I'll move it up a few spots. It sounds excellent.

Rebecca Reid said...

I actually checked it out a few months ago, but had to return it before I could even start (long story). I really do want to read it. Hopefully in the new year. Thanks for this glowing recommendation. Sounds wonderful.