Half Of A Yellow Sun.

You probably don’t know, but I am a big fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE CHIMAMANDA. Before I started this blog, I knew if I eventually own a blog, I would definitely write about my favorite writer and books even if I’ve read some of these book years back. I always knew I wanted to feature CNA. so here is one of many to come. sit back and enjoy.. lol this will be a long one but I will do my best to make it as short as possible.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s writings have, in various forms, influenced all of my adult life.

I love her work and I think she is phenomenal  and a force to reckon with. I love how she beautifully captured the story, and how she made it easy to read and be easily addicted to the story the very end. 

Most of you who aren’t Nigerians or African, probably have little knowledge of the Biafra war, except, possibly, for the media's haunting images of starving children. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings our people's world to the world at large  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, and with all her other works, she confirms her international reputation, established “first with PURPLE HABISCUS & later AMERICANAH” as one of the leading new voices of African literature. I’m sure you get it now… lol. I LOVE THIS BRILLIANT WOMAN SO MUCH.
Now to the job at hand,

Let’s be honest. How many of you would pick up a work of narrative non-fiction, no matter how well-written, to learn about the Biafran War? Do you know the first thing about Nigeria—hell, about Africa? This is how fiction changes the world. Despite our best efforts at ignorance, fiction brings the world to us, takes us inside the lives of those whose histories, realities, battles are so very different from our own. The imagined stories lead us to the factual ones. We find ourselves searching out the history, reading the articles, the long-form journalism pieces, perhaps even the books, asking, “How did this happen and I knew nothing about it? What is this place? Who are the Igbo, the Hausa, the Yorubas, the Binis, the Isokos, Ijaws and all the hundreds ethnic groups that makes up Nigeria and why does it matter now.”

 And Since a lot of people consider Africa on the whole to be a homogeneous “country” where everyone speaks “African”, I’m hoping books like this will help show people that that’s not the case; even a country like Nigeria has so many tribes and cultures.  

Make out time to definitely read this book and Let Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tell you why this nation, our nation, the war, this story matters. Let her characters into your heart and wince as they break it, over and over again. 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Half Of A Yellow Sun was published in 2007.  Its Chimamanda’s book after “Purple Hibicus”.  The novel tells a heart wrenching story of love, resilience and betrayal during the Biafran War. 

In García Márquez’s words: ”The worst enemy of politicians is a writer” and I would amplify that with not only of politicians. Now, I’m not sure if Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has had intention to accuse (probably not) but you cannot avoid truth and, as always truth is hurting so badly.

Half of a Yellow Sun—which takes its name from the emblem of Biafra—reveals a Nigeria that could have been, before it became a nation split by war. 

It is a story about the birth and short life of Biafra, life that ended in one of the worst possible way while “the world was silent when they died” . Before reading this book I Had previously read “There Was A Country – Chinua Achebe”,  And even before then, I had learned that Biafra was an independent country and all about it from my DAD (*blush* I was a DADDY’S GIRL and very inquisitive child… I had my father repeatedly tell stories about the WAR and his youth! And my dad was a history teacher and through him I fell madly in love with history of the world and particularly of my PEOPLE) Although I was aware of the Biafran war and the mass starvation and death that resulted before this book, I never had any understanding of the reasons leading to the birth of Biafra and the aftermath of it’s Denise and I needed to learn more to be able to understand and maybe make peace with my history.

For me Biafra was a synonym for starvation, for hunger, misery, I was always picturing children with huge bellies and limbs like toothpicks. A condition known as ”kwashiorkor”, difficult word isn’t it? But it is REAL.

“If she had died, if Odenigbo and Baby and Ugwu had died, the bunker would still smell like a freshly tilled farm and the sun would still rise and the crickets would still hop around. The war would continue without them. Olanna exhaled, filled with a frothy rage. It was the very sense of being inconsequential that pushed her from extreme fear to extreme fury. She had to matter.”

 Everything started in 1960 when Nigeria gained independence from British colonialism; few years later there was a coup d’état led by Igbo tribe. Since Nigeria was the country with many clans ethnic tension started to sparkle between Muslim Hausa and Christian Igbo clans and eventually resulted with ethnic cleansing of Igbos that were living in the north of the country with Muslim majority. Because of that atrocity Igbo clan has proclaimed independence of theirs own country named after Biafran Bay in the southeast of Nigeria (the problem was the fact that Biafra has huge oil reserves). Few countries had recognized this new country, however the most powerful ones (United Kingdom and Soviet Union) supported Nigeria with military supplies and after three years (1967-1970) the war of Biafra secession ended in a humanitarian catastrophe as Nigerian blockades stopped all supplies, military and civilian alike, from entering the region. Hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) people died in the resulting famine.

The story has been told through the lives of three very different people: Ugwu,13 year old boy from some remote village who is starting to work as a houseboy in the house of university professor Mr Odenigbo with revolutionary aspirations. Ugwu is a magnificent source of Nigerian (African?) folklore and mythology. His superstitious-ness is beautiful, pure and incredibly authentic. Being uneducated his provincialism and thinking of everything authentically African as inferior comparing with everything British is very strong! (I sound as if I’m justifying his attitude with that “being uneducated”, well it’s really hard to dislike Ugwu you will totally love him)

Olanna, a young woman with university diploma from London, member of Nigerian aristocracy who rejected privileged life and follow her heart. Strong, modern, enthusiastic woman with strong vision of her future life liberated from the chains of her family’s expectations.
Third one is Richard, The British fiancee of Olanna’s twin sister Kianene. He’s an Englishman who came to Nigeria because he fell in love with the ancient piece of local art . With Richard being white, he has had to put much more effort to prove himself as true Biafran and was doing this in the best possible way.

What I especially like is that all three main characters are real humans; they are not flawless. On the contrary, they are making horrible mistakes which might be even unforgivable under different circumstances.

Then there is Odenigbo; Odenigbo is middle class and a maths professor at the university in Nsukka. He is also a radical. Every evening he and his friends partake in political debate and he takes Ugwu under his wing and encourages him to read. Soon after beginning working for his Master, Olanna, Odenigbo’s lover comes to live with them. Olanna is the daughter of a wealthy Lagos businessman and like I mentioned earlier,  she has been educated in London.

The book also introduces us to Olanna’s twin sister Kainene. Where Olanna is incredibly moralistic and passionate with her heart, Kainene is more closed-off, more protected. Kainene is in a relationship with the British-Biafran man called Richard. 

The story that follows builds up to the Nigerian civil war But this is not only story about the war. War with its horror is scenery for the story of love, loyalty, friendship, betrayal, forgiveness about fight and survival. It is very universal story placed in one precise historical context.

We see the closeness of the sisters, the education of Ugwu, we see the development of friendships, the daily on-goings of regular life but we are always keenly aware of the political unrest ticking away underneath the surface and when the massacres of the Igbo people in 1966 begin life for our main characters changes irrevocably. When I read those scenes I felt so physically ill….just gut wrenching…. Loyalties are then tested, bonds are broken and the once close group of characters splinters apart. To see a family divided… War… what it does to people… oh there are no words…

PLOT

The book is structured in four parts which intertwine in time -before the war and during the war. We are introduced to the lives of Olanna, Odenigbo, Ugwu, Kainene and Richard, which are the main characters. Olanna and Odenigbo are a couple living in Nsukka and working for the University there -they are educated Nigerians who try to improve the lives of others through education. Ugwu is a young boy who enters the service of Odenigbo and becomes quickly attracted to the bohemian lifestyle of his “master” and his mistress. Soon enough Ugwu becomes aware that there is more than a life of serving and through the conversations he hears during the tertulia’s held at Odenigbo’s house, he becomes thirsty for understanding and knowledge. Ugwu is quite a dear character -at least to me- as he is crazy, funny, naïve, and kind all at the same time. On the other hand, there is Kainene who is Olanna’s twin. They don’t have the best relationship as Kainene is the strongest, at least in their parents’ view, and more detached from emotion. Richard is an Englishman who arrives in Nigeria to learn about the Igbo culture and soon enough falls in love with Kainene. 

The novel takes us back and forth in the lives of all the characters, before the war and after. What I enjoyed about the book was the perfect balance CNA could build between historical facts -the Nigerian society and the war- and the personal history of each of the characters. There was never a moment when the historical fiction felt dull or too much or when the lives of the characters felt out of place. Each piece fit smoothly into the narration and thus created a novel which deals with difficult topics which go from war to rivalry among siblings.

MY THOUGHTS

The characters are the best thing about this book. The characters are so utterly three-dimensional and fascinating that there isn’t a dull moment. They feel like real people, with complicated motivations and reactions and relationships, in a way that precious few fictional characters do. From the very moment I picked up this book, I felt like I was present and part of the story. I felt the pain, heartbreaks, hunger, cruelty, injustice and every emotion this books came with. That was how compelling and strong the characters building was.

This is also a fantastic piece of historical fiction. This is one genreI love so much, I read lots of Historical fiction to learn about the world and in this case, MY COUNTRY. This book has a great sense of place and relates the brief existence of Biafra in a way that’s engaging, understandable and memorable. The structure–with the book divided into four parts going back and forth between the early and late 60s–helps with this; it allows readers to step back and see how the countries and the characters got to where they were in the late 60s, and also keeps the book from being overwhelmed with war and tragedy. One common problem with books focused on some great tragedy or atrocity is too little build-up, but this one gives readers ample time to get to know and care about the characters and the place before the shooting starts. And the early-60s sections don’t just introduce the characters but have enough depth that they could have been a novel on their own.

I should note that the war sections are very focused on the characters’ individual experiences--In reality, there were “millions” of people in Biafra, but it felt much smaller than that. But this is one of the book’s many strengths, that it’s able to focus on a few people’s lives rather than turn into some kind of political treatise. We find out early on that a character writes a book about Biafra called “The World Was Silent When We Died”--but this is not that book. It’s far more subtle than that.

Finally, the writing itself is excellent. Neither overly ornate nor simplistic, it’s the kind of old-fashioned good writing that’s technically good but without calling attention to itself. And there are thematic questions that I’m still trying to work out (what Richard’s role in the book says about white people in Africa, for instance). The closest thing I have to a criticism of this book is of the Author’s Note, in which the author states that she took “many liberties” with the facts but not what they are. (The basic facts of the war, as far as I can tell from basic internet research, seem to have been presented accurately, but like most readers I’m unlikely to do extensive research to ascertain what was fact and what was fiction.)

Favorite excerpts from the book

 Never let your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?” Aunty Ifeka said. “Your life belongs to you and you alone.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

“Then she wished, more rationally, that she could love him without needing him. Need gave him power without his trying; need was the lack of choice she often felt around him.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

“And it’s wrong of you to think that love leaves room for nothing else. It’s possible to love something and still condescend to it.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

“How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to understand exploitation?” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

“Why do I love him?…I don’t think love has a reason…I think love comes first and then the reasons follow.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun . 

“We never actively remember death,’ Odenigbo said. The reason we live as we do is because we do not remember that we will die. We will all die.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

“If this is hatred, then it is very young. I has been caused, simply, by the informal divide-and-rule policies of the British colonial exercise. These policies manipulated the differences between the tribes and ensured that unity would not exist, thereby making the easy governance of such a large country practicable.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

“…my point is that the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe…I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.”Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun.

I would recommend Half of a Yellow Sun to a wide range of people: whether you like historical fiction, world fiction or literary fiction, whether you read for story or characters, whether you know anything about Biafra or not, I think you’ll find much to appreciate in this fantastic book.

Have you read this? Are you Nigerian? African? Ever been to AFRICA? I would love to hear all about it and your personal view(s) and experiences. Do you love Historical Fiction? Care to recommend any good one? please do… I love learning about different cultures, races, religion and to read about the material this world we live in now was sew with.