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Starts slow, slumps a bit in the middle, ends on a high note
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.