on 25 September 2006
`Half of A Yellow Sun' confirms Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as one of my favourite authors. Following up a very successful first novel is always difficult but this is exceptional writing.
While tackling a difficult subject, the lead up to and the course of Nigeria's Biafra War in the 1960's, it is told in a very readable and accessible way. The events unfold through the eyes of three central characters who are swept along in the chaos of civil war. There is Ugwu, the houseboy of a university lecturer; Olanna, the lecturer's partner; and Richard, an English journalist who lives with Olanna's twin sister. They are forced together and separated in unexpected ways throughout the war, each witnessing events that affect them deeply.
Interwoven in the main plot are other important themes, the necessity (for the innocent people displaced by war) and ineffectiveness (through corruption and misappropriation) of emergency relief aid; the use of child soldiers and horrors they are forced to endure; how the West perceives Africa (a good example being the situation when two American reporters are more interested in the death of one white journalist than one thousand local, black civilians); how religion, tribal loyalties and the political elite can tear a country apart; and how many of these factors can be traced back to the impact that colonialism had on the country. There are significant lessons that can be drawn from this novel, particularly with regards to how the world is dealing with the current crisis in Darfur, for example.
The structure of the novel worked well, creating intrigue and suspense throughout. It was gripping from start to finish but the tension that built in the final section meant it had to be read in one session - there was no way it could be put down.
It is one of those few books that leave you staring at the final page, not wanting to believe that it's all over. Needless to say, given the topic, it is quite a harrowing and distressing account of war. But the author's passion and dedication for her country (especially since she lost a number of her own relatives in the war) shows throughout the book. The way she describes its resilient people, traditional food (except for Harrison's rather amusing obsession with Western food), and local traditions leave you with a feeling that you have been to Nigeria yourself.
It will undoubtedly be a major contribution to African literature and is highly recommended.
on 8 April 2008
Half of a Yellow Sun is an excellent read. Easily my favourite novel this or last year.
Chimamanda has a gift for human observation. Her descriptive style is compelling and the characters sometimes cleverly invite you into their worlds. One often has to remind oneself that the author, being as young as she is, cannot have lived to see as much of life as her work represents.
I understood Odenigbo and Olanna perfectly but found Ugwu a little contrived. This is not to say he is not likeable: Ugwu is, without a doubt, the central character in this rich dramatis personae. He makes you laugh and cry far more than anybody else. Still, it is difficult to believe that an African houseboy - in a continent where labour is cheap and expendable - can occupy such a central part in the life of a family while growing up with little regard for his own future. Richard was the least believable of all. He was, for me, a cartoon character. A shallow Englishman suddenly finding himself a journalist deeply wrapped up in a war which has nothing to do with him takes a greater leap of the imagination than I was capable of making. I liked the detachment of Kainene and the supreme confidence of Madu.
The pages describing the war are clearly where the author had to do the most work. It is difficult to tell that she did not live through the war herself. A novel about a forgotten war written by an authentic Igbo is exactly what was needed - not another paternalistic travelogue/history book from yet another European "discovering" themselves and their writing skills in Africa's turbulent history. Brilliant.
You cannot read this book slowly - it is far too fast-paced for that. I will be looking out for more of Chimamanda's work; she has a superb future ahead of her.
A delightful surprise awaits you at the end. Lovely twist!
on 27 October 2011
Adichie's book is a historical novel concerning itself with a small band of characters experiencing the secession of southeastern Nigeria and the following civil war. The main characters are Odenigbo, a middle-class intellectual, Ugwu, his servant with small-village roots, Olanna and Kainene, a pair of twins from a rich Nigerian family, and Richard Churchill, an englishman living in Nigeria. The first half of the book is a description of life in Nigeria before the war, following characters in several layers of Nigerian society. In the middle of the book, the Republic of Biafra is proclaimed and civil war breaks out, and during the remainder of the book, we follow the hardships during the war suffered by the main cast.
The book is a bit slowly paced at times, and I did not always find the characters particularly engrossing. The description of life in Nigeria is interesting, particularly the conflicts between the members of the middle-class and the tribal villagers in rural areas. The progressively harsher adversities faced by the characters confer a grim view of the realities of war. However, it was not until the last quarter of the book that I became really absorbed. As the war draws towards its end, the conflict begins to force itself very intimately onto the lives of the main characters, no longer only in the sense of material deprivation, but in terms of a loss of humanity, profound personal grief, nostalgia for the past and the realization of a permanent loss of innocence. This last part is where the book really shines.
While I would not agree with the unrestrained praise accorded by some other reviewers, Adichie's novel is a good book, and to someone particularly interested in African history, it is a worthy read.
on 10 November 2006
After Purple Hibiscus, I was not in a hurry to read the next offering from Chimamanda. The first novel, praised by critics, other authors and many of the other reviewers on this page, left me feeling very dissatisfied. I found it unecessarily slow and was of the opinion that the author fell into the "ethnic" trap that is the downfall of many young African writers.
Half of a Yellow Sun was simply fantastic. It was (and forgive the cheese), a JOY to read. I have tried, and failed, to read many a book on the Nigerian Civil War. Its a part of my country's history that I feel is poorly documented and is glossed over by many Nigerians, the bulk of whom understandably still bear very painful memories of its brutality and futility.
Chimamanda's novel is so fantastic because her characters are astoundingly real. I read it at lightening speed whilst managing to savour every scene and twist in my mind, to the extent that I can still recall every event in the book and am anxiously waiting for my friends and family to read it, as I am desperate to discuss it with others who can, and will, appreciate its genius.
I saw every scene, heard every sound and felt every emotion as the story unfolded before me. I was consumed by this novel, by its fascinating plot and personalities, and by the vast array of themes it encompassed: The relationships between Olanna and Odenigbo; Olanna and Kainene; Kainene and Richard; Odenigbo and his group of intellectuals, Ugwu's loyalty and his later dabble with base brutality, the ease with which life was lived before the war, the fear, panic and inhumane responses that ensued amongst both the rich and the poor, the wartime propaganda, the inaction of the international community and the sheer surrealness of it all.
Despite her Igbo heritage, Chimamanda tells her story without dictating the group with which her reader should side. This is a praiseworthy characteristic lacking in many other works on the Civil War. I know she did not set out to create a historical account, however I would have loved to see her contrast in greater detail the happenings in the East with the calm continuation of life as normal in the rest of the country.
I believe another reviewer said that this was the first time in a long while they found themselves unwilling and frankly unable to put a book down. I agree whole-heartedly. The likes of Zadie Smith and Diana Evans have absolutely nothing on this remarkable young woman who really deserves all the praise for this wonderful book.
on 23 June 2008
I found this one of the best books I have read in the last few years. Despite having many Nigerian friends and thinking myself pretty au fait with some of Africa's post-colonial history I was horrified to discover that I knew absolutely nothing about Biafra and the attempts of part of Nigeria to secede from the rest of Nigeria in the late 1960s. This book is brilliantly written and takes us through the lives of twin sisters from the upper echelons of society and a houseboy from the other end of the social spectrum as well as those they live with and know. The characters were believable and I found myself genuinely caring about what happened to them. She made the appalling behaviour of people in a time of war very credible and shocking. I couldn't put this down; it was the best book I had read since The Kite Runner..
My only criticism would be the character of Richard, the boyfriend of one of the twin sisters. I found him a little unbelievable and felt he was only in there to show a white person's perspective.... This shouldn't put you off though. I don't believe anyone could dislike this incredibly well-crafted novel.
on 11 February 2007
Most of us will have little knowledge of the Biafra war, except, possibly, for the media's haunting images of starving children. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings her people's world to us in this beautifully crafted, deeply moving, novel. Set in Nigeria during the 1960s, the narrative alternates between the optimistic early years of the decade and the civil war period at the end of it. With her extraordinary storytelling skill, Adichie draws the reader into an absorbing account of fictionalized realities that is impossible to put down - or to forget after the last page is read. With this, her second novel, she confirms her international reputation, established first with Purple Hibiscus, as one of the leading new voices of African literature.
While the war for Biafra's independence, born out of highly complex Nigerian and international political circumstances, provides the essential context for the novel, Adichie's focus is on the personal and private, the struggle of the civilian Igbo population. Her depiction of the horrors of war, the starvation and destruction is realistic. Yet she does not allow these scenes to take over and succeeds in not overwhelming the reader with them. By concentrating on one family and its close circle of friends and neighbours, Adichie creates an intimate portrait of these people's lives during both these critical periods. She paints her characters and their ongoing interactions against the panoramic view of events and environments that influence their lives and challenges their peace and even their existence.
Central to her story are the twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, from a wealthy middleclass Igbo family. The beautiful Olanna leaves Lagos for a university environment to be with her political firebrand lover, the math professor Odenigbo. Kainene, on the other hand, having inherited their father's talents, shines as a confident business woman. English researcher and writer, Richard, friend of Odenigbo, falls under her spell. Adichie explores the interactions sisterly intimacy and love as well as its serious tests with sensitivity and empathy for both. Through them and their surroundings she also touches on the social, political and religious tensions of the time.
The list of main characters wouldn't be complete without Ugwu. Brought into the Odenigbo household as a house boy, he matures from the naïve village boy to become a well educated, articulate and caring member of the extended family. In fact, Ugwu acts as a sort of understudy to the narrator, adding a very distinctly personal flair to the description of events and bridging the reality of his own family's rural environment with that of the intellectually stimulating social gatherings at the professor's house.
During the war years, intimacies, friendships and loyalties are put to the test. Will they survive the dramatically changed circumstances that the group finds itself in? Some are evicted from their homes and have to join the endless stream of refugees to find shelter and food for survival. Others move into remote rural areas to escape the fighting. Olanna's efforts to maintain her dignity and to protect her small family come alive on the page. So does Kainene's work with her confidence that she can beat adversity and barriers in her efforts to maintain the supplies for a refugee camp. They don't lose hope or humanity. Odenigbo and Richard have their own demons to tackle. And Ugwu juggles his various roles while attempting to maintain something of a private life for himself.
Half of a Yellow Sun, also the symbol of the short-lived Biafran state, represents some of the best that storytelling has to offer. With strong imagery and beautiful language Adichie has created a masterwork.
on 11 January 2008
It seems one has to go to authors from the developing world to get good novels these days, Afghanistan or Nigeria. Yes it is still Nigeria despite this book by an Igbo author being a great apology for Biafra. Other Amazon reviewers do not seem to pick up as to how one sided this perspective is. Northerners resented the Igbos for their intelligent commercial acumen. When they staged the first military coup, retaliation was sure to come. The one thing I found incredible in this book was the assertion that some expatriates encouraged the killing of Igbos in the North. I had friends in the North who witnessed the murders, They were horrified and traumatised by the butchery and never recounted any expatriate approval let alone encouragement of genocide.
This is a powerful well told story. The life of well to do Nigerians and expatriates in the newly independent Nigeria is well related. But were Nigerian sixties women as free with sexual favours as the twins i this novel?
The horror of the civil war is graphically portrayed and makes for uncomfortable reading. I found the reversion to earlier years part way through to be a confusing weakness in the story.
This is well told from an igbo perspective. Biafran soldiers are portrayed as brutal rapists. Not only their enemies were wicked. But not all Nigerians on the federal side were vandals.Gowon is an upright Christian and his magnanimous words in victory ae recorded. There is no explanation of why the British government backed federal Nigeria against much of public opinion. I believe the British were indeed indirectly responsible for this tragedy whem they kept missionaries and therefore education out of the Muslim North for so many years. They left a new country where educated southerners felt educationally superior to Muslim Northerners who believe the y have a divine right to rule.
on 23 July 2007
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a brilliant piece of novel writing. The novel journeys during the 1960's based in Nigeria. The author has nicely blended historical events of Nigeria to deliver a first class piece of storytelling to the reader. It is really good to know and to appreciate highly about history of another country, no matter how disturbing and emotional the events turned out to be, as clearly depicted in the novel.
The author engages to the reader about the large scale massacres in Nigeria and offers excellent character perspective to unfold a chilling and horrifying account about how it affected certain individuals. The novel is superbly written with vivid imagination, rich details and historical facts. The history refers to the war between Nigeria and Biafran. I am totally disturbed and intrigued to how cruel humanity can really be for what motives. Africa has a long history of civil war and this problem unfortuntely continues to exist. The novel is one perspective of civil unrest in Africa, which is brilliantly delivered and presented to the reader. You cannot takes your eyes of the book for one second, as it written in such a manner, that you are kind of drawn in the story. You feel high degree of sympathy for certain characters as returning to normality is an upheaval struggle.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deserves the highest praise for its story and characterisation. The author is really talented and she is an emerging writer from Africa, with a great deal to promise as the novel proves. She has told us about her country's history in a superb narratted story which is really compelling, distrubing and emotional, but their is always happiness in humnaity. She will contribute significantly to African literature and this novel is a real insight of African history specifically in Nigeria. Anyone who loves historical fiction, will certainly enjoy this novel.
Strip away the thin veneer of civilization, and history teaches that you can quickly fall into savagery. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie disagrees with that conclusion. She sees elemental nobility in people that overcomes for most even the most trying conditions. As a result, Half of a Yellow Sun is a very hopeful work, despite recounting the horrors of the Biafran attempt to separate from Nigeria in 1967-70. She also realizes that even the best people will slip up . . . and deserve forgiveness when they do if they repent.
However, betray someone at a personal level . . . and that's much harder to take than mere life-threatening and degrading challenges. The contrast between surviving external conditions and personal betrayal is deftly and powerfully made in this kaleidoscope of how world politics, colonial policies, religious differences, tribal influences, geographical prejudices, racism, economic class consciousness, business activities, family connections, friendships, sexual desire, obligations, and personal favors interplay.
At the center of the story is one household at rural Nsukka University comprised of the socialist-leaning professor Odenigbo, his beautiful mistress Olanna, daughter of Chief Ozobia, and their houseboy, Ugwu. The plot also heavily involves Olanna's fraternal twin sister, Kainene, who runs the family business interests and her lover, the ineffectual English writer, Richard Churchill. Intellectuals from Odenigbo's university circles also stand-in as surrogates for various attitudes in society. In fact, each character is clearly symbolic of one part of the story or the other. Follow their fates, and you get a good sense of the author's ideas of what happened to the overall social fabric.
Two things make this book special: First, Ms. Adichie has captured the psychologies of different times in Nigeria and Biafra in a subtle and interesting way. Her book is very much more about the psychological landscape than about the physical one. No doubt she was helped by her interviews with her relatives and others still living who experienced those days. Second, she takes the time to endow ordinary life with extraordinary meaning. It's a beautiful gift.
The book has two weaknesses from my perspective: Ms. Adichie curiously decides to turn some of the personal events into a mystery so that for some pages you see characters estranged from one another . . . but without knowing the reason. I felt like this approach simply served to make the story harder to understand . . . as though the reader didn't really qualify to know family matters. The other weakness is that many characters are drawn very superficially while Ms. Adichie shows enormous skill in portraying great depths concerning Olanna, Ugwu, and Odenigbo.
For those of us who don't live in Africa, it's always exciting to see events there from the perspective of Africans . . . rather than American journalists and visiting politicians. I felt deeply rewarded by reading this fine book.
on 4 March 2007
This book caught my eye whilst shopping in my local supermarket and I thought I'd give it a try..............I'm glad I did! Written with warmth, humour and a true feeling for what happened in Nigeria during the late '60's, it leaves you with an understanding of this country and it's inhabitants. As one reviewer quotes on the back cover, I also raced through the last pages desparate to know what happens to the characters that I felt I had come to know. Wonderful!