Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Release Date: 2007 (First Published by Knopf in 2006)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Nigeria / Biafra
My Rating: 5 Stars *****
With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra's impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war. (Source: GoodReads)
I’ll start by saying that I’m probably biased in reviewing any of Chimamanda’s books because a) I love her, b) I think she is bomb and; c) I see pieces of myself in her (vanity!!). That said however, I’ll try being as objective as possible. (TRY- key word).
It’s a double win when you get to read a great work of adult fiction and then learn something new, that you probably should have known but didn’t? Ever get that feeling? Half of a Yellow Sun is broadly about the short lived State of Biafra and the Biafran War (1967-1970). But no, that is not all that the book is about, it’s a story about love, about tragedy, war and suffering, a heartbreaking story and no, there is no happy ending.
Olanna and Kainene are twin sisters, born of the Nigerian elite and whose personalities are as different as day and night. Olanna the beautiful, light skinned, soft spoken one, the ‘safe’ one and Kainene, the not so beautiful, independent and strong minded. Olanna moves to Nsukka to live with her boyfriend, Odenigbo, a professor and a radical. They both teach at the University. Kainene lives in Port Harcourt and manages their family businesses. She is dating Richard, a British writer who is totally and completely enchanted with her.
Then there is Ugwu, who starts and ends the book and whose story is so pivotal. Ugwu is Odenigbo’s teen houseboy. Throughout the course of the book, when the war starts, there is a book within a book narration; “They World Was Silent When We Died” which we find out in the end was written by Ugwu. Amazing, because when this book starts, Ugwu is an illiterate bush boy but through Olanna’s nurturing, he goes to school and even at some point during the war, volunteers as a teacher.
Events taking place before and during the war, pushes all these characters together and apart with great force. There is betrayal – Odenigbo has a baby with a house help and Olanna seduces Richard, Kainene’s boyfriend. There is love. There is grief. And I’m still reeling from the ending – Kainene (who if I haven’t mentioned is my favourite) has to cross enemy lines to find food and never returns. Richard and Olanna search for her but never find her. Her disappearance remains a mystery that I still cannot get over!! Can we get a 2nd novel that explains what happens to Kainene?
The book ends when Biafra, the seceded state surrenders and re-joins Nigeria.
I loved how Chimamanda intertwined fiction with real events, sort of gives you an interesting story that merges with events that actually happened, because let’s be honest, I would probably never pick up a book called “The Biafran War” if I found it on the shelves.
I love (d) this book. I devoured word after word and when I finished it, I read it again, twice!! If you have not read this book, please run to a bookshop near you and buy.
Rating - 5 Stars *****