Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Posted 18 September, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 35 Comments


Title: Half of a Yellow Sun
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Date Finished: Sept 18, 2008 #54
Pages: 541
Rating: 4.25/5

I have been wanting to read this book for a long time–ever since Adichie was announced as the winner of the Orange Prize last year–so I jumped on the opportunity it read it with an online discussion group this month. For some reason I had it in my head that this was going to be a tough book to get through and I was going to need some motivation, but despite the week it took, I felt like I drank this book down quickly.

Half of a Yellow Sun is an incredibly emotionally moving story of the Nigerian-Biafran War during the 1960s. Oh how I am learning this year! I feel a little sheepish saying I had never heard of Biafra before reading this book and actually looked it up to see if this was a fictional war for the purposes of this story (eeks…don’t tell anyone!!!). The book is steeped in post-colonial theory that I can’t even begin to cover in this post, but basically the book deals with the after-effects of the Africa carving table and the country lines being drawn willy-nilly mostly by the Europeans (am I being unfair??). When the Igbo people began being targeted and massacred by the Northern Nigerians, they seceded to create their own country, Biafra, which existed for three years.

The book focuses on five main characters and how they and the people around them cope with terrors the war brings. The characters are all so different and Adichie develops them fully and beautifully. Olanna, who is elegant and desired, comes from a rich, educated, upperclass family. She and her lover, Odenigbo, have taken in Ugwu, a local village boy, first as a servent but later almost as their own. Olanna’s twin sister, Kainene, makes a colorful contrast to Olanna’s coolness with her sharp tongue and attitude. The final member of the cast of characters is Kainene’s lover Richard, a British expatriate, who feels as Biafran as anyone else but struggles to prove himself to others because of his whiteness.

Each chapter shows a different side of the story as we see the effects of the war through Olanna, Richard, and Ugwu. Although they are not narrating their own stories, each perspective adds to the richness of the book. I have to be honest, though, that I had the toughest time with Richard’s portions of the book. Because Olanna and Ugwu reside in the same house, at times it felt like Richard’s story was something completely tangential and separate from the rest of the book. Also, the female characters in this book are so incredibly strong that Richard always seemed like a weak person–not really one who I always admired.

Overall I really liked this book. However, I think I set the bar pretty high with The God of Small Things and I really wanted this one to compare. Unfortunately it didn’t for me–but in many ways I think I am being overly critical of the book. I didn’t understand why Adichie jumps from the early 60s to the late 60s to the early to the late. I think one jump might have been effective, but by the time I finished the book I had forgotten much of the second portion except some of the foreshadowing effects that were used there. Also, some of the transitions in the book were a little off for me. For example, she would mention someone’s death and immediately move on as if it didn’t happen. It never really sat well with me and seemed too casual for the subject matter. Finally, I hated the ending. *Sigh* I was really caught up in “how the heck is this thing going to end!” and when it did finish, I couldn’t believe that was it. Fell completely flat. BUT, other than those minor minor things, I really liked the book and recommend it wholeheartedly. :)

Don’t believe me??…just check out what these guys thought:
Natasha; Gautami; Dewey; Literary Feline; Eva; Raidergirl3; Caribousmom; Jill; Marg
(my Google reader isn’t liking me today and I had to dig for a few of these–so let me know I missed yours)

35 Responses to “Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

  1. Great review thanks for sharing…another book I have that I need to move up on the to-read pile…so many miles so little time to read…sigh.

  2. Great review. I simply love Adichie. Recently I have been checking on her short stories. I have posted a review of one my blog. Do check it out. You gonna like it!

  3. Great review! Don’t worry I don’t know anything about the Nigerian-Biafran War and to tell you the truth, still couldn’t tell you anything even after reading this one. I have Purple Hibiscus on the list to read but don’t think I’ll get to it anytime soon although I’d like to.

  4. I read this book as well for am online group, Travel The World on Book Blogs (same one?). This is my first time reading Adichie and I was really impressed. The writing was so accessible and beautiful that I was drawn right in, and it’s a pretty big book but that turned out to not have been a problem.

    It didn’t make sense for her to break it up in the fashion that she did. She must have done it that way for a reason and I am really curious as to the motivation. I also agreed about Richard. It will be interesting to discuss.

  5. Yikes, I’ll be coming back to this. I’m not done. I’m about halfway-I better get to it. I just looked at how you rated it and kept my eyes closed for the rest. lol.

  6. Great review, Trish! I need to add this to my wishlist… since I’ve seen this book being mentioned all over the blogosphere. :)

  7. I was completely clueless about the political and social history in which this book was set too Trish. I read this earlier in the year and remember really loving it. Haven’t read any of her other work as yet.

  8. This is one I’ve been wanting to read for a while, too. Of course, big difference between you and me…you actually got around to reading it. Me? Who knows when it will actually happen.
    Your review was fabulous, Trish! Sounds like quite the beautiful book, but maybe you lowered my expectations a tiny bit, and frankly I think that’s a good thing. Always nice to be surprised by a book being better than you expected, but not nearly so pleasant the other way around.

  9. *Yasmin – I know exactly what you mean! I’ve had this book now for several months and keep putting it off for other stuff. Hope you get to read it soon!

    *Gautami – I did see your short story post but I havent had a chance to read it yet (my reader has been clogged with BBAW stuff and I’ve been a little slow this week).

    *Amanda – I had never heard of Biafra either! But, since it was only a country for three years in the 60s, I guess I feel a little better about not knowing. It is a really interesting book!!

    *Natasha – I have Purple Hibiscus on my list as well (not on the shelf, though). I did learn a lot from this book but I also used a little bit of supplement from the web to help fill in the gaps of knowledge.

    *Nicole – Yes! I think it is the same group. Hopefully some discussion will start up soon but it seems like a lot of people still haven’t read it. This is my first discussion with the group, so I’m not really sure what to expect!

  10. *Dar – Yes–I saw how you sneaked that other book into the bunch. ;) The second half of the book went really quickly for me–couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait to hear what you think!! (And I had a tough time rating this one…)

    *Melody – This one certainly is all over the blogosphere–I don’t think I would have heard of it otherwise! It is a really good book and I think it has wide appeal–hope you like it!

    *Karen – I read Things Fall Apart a couple of years ago so I was familiar with the colonial part of Nigeria (a little), but I didn’t know anything about what happened after Britain pulled out. It’s such a devestating story/history…

    *Debi – Yes, I know exactly what you mean about high expectations–and I think that’s how mine were for this book. Plus my eyes have been bothering me so I had a hard time focusing on the book (literarlly!). ;) I do think you’d like this one and hope you get to it soon (but I know how that Mountain TBR is!!)

  11. “The country lines being drawn willy-nilly mostly by the Europeans (am I being unfair??)”

    I don’t think so. And those artificial lines are still responsible for so much of what goes on today.

    The book sounds wonderful. Of course, living up to The God of Small Things is pretty hard for me too :P Thank you for the lovely review, Trish. I really think I’ll enjoy this one.

  12. How nice it is to see a 4.25! :) I had this book on hold at the library and received it right when it came out, so I forced myself to begin it. My mindset just wasn’t where it should have been, so I ended up returning it. Even though I was enjoying it, I thought it would be better to read it when I really wanted to read it. I still look forward to it. (I closed my eyes, too, Dar!)

  13. This is one of those universally praised books that I just keep meaning to read. I have no doubt that I’ll get around to it eventually, but really – why aren’t there more hours in the day?! My head is going to explode with all of the books I’d like to read. This one sounds great too!

  14. *Nymeth – I wish I knew more about the history of Africa, but the thing about history is you have to be careful who is telling the history. But yes, I think that the artificial lines have caused a lot of problems in many different colonial countries–that was a big theme in Midnight’s Children as well.

    Anyway, I think you would really like this one!

    *Joy – I think this one has to be read when you *want* to read it. Of course, that goes for a lot of books. I do recommend this one, though and I hope to read The Purple Hibiscus someday as well (not in any hurry though!)

    *J.S. – Yes! I don’t think I’ve read anything really negative about the book. And for its length is it pretty easy to get into and enjoy–Adichie has great style to her writing–very fluid. I hope you get around to it soon, but know exactly how you feel about there being SO many books. :)

  15. I’m always confessing to being a complete ignoramus. No, you’re not alone. Never heard of Biafra. Definitely one for the wish list.

  16. *Yasmin – Well, then I hope you really like it! ;) I think you will–it’s a really touching story.

    *Bookfool – It’s that old adage where the more you know the more you realize you DON’T know. But, I think I’d rather know how much I don’t know than live in ignorant bliss–ok, maybe not. *Sigh*

    *Eva – I haven’t read that one yet but I’d really like it. I think I may have heard from some others that they prefer Purple Hibiscus better. Your comment gives me something to look forward to!

  17. I’ve never heard of Biafra either, but that isn’t too surprising for me. Time jumping in books can be so confusing! I understand that authors don’t always want write stories from start to finish every time, but sometimes, the story or the point of the story can get completely lost if you can’t figure out what is going on!

  18. I wish I was as articulate as you are! I enjoyed this book quite a bit too, but, like you, my expectations were a bit too high and so I ended up not being as impressed as I might have otherwise.

  19. *Corinne – Thank you! You are such a sweetheart. :)

    *Laura – Well, to be fair (maybe) it was only a country for three years in the 60s. The time jumping in this one was a little more straightforward than in The God of Small Things (in clear cut sections anyway), but I didn’t get the purpose of it. Oh well!

    *Marg – Thanks for the link–sorry I missed it! There’s got to be a better way to search than google reader because it usually leaves out links. :(

    *Lit Feline – I was I was as articulate as YOU! :) I hate when a book doesn’t meet my expectations, but with all the praise out there for this one it was difficult NOT to have those expectations. Oh well, I still enjoyed it and I would still highly recommend it.

  20. Ramya

    hey trish! am going to be reading this book soon.. just reserved it at the library.. i read purple hibiscus earlier this year and totally loved it!:) been meaning to read this ever since.. guess this is decent enough time to give between two books by the same author:)

  21. Ramya

    btw, just saw that you’re reading my father’s paradise.. am curious to see what you think about it.. i found the beginning quite slow but i grew to love the book by the end of it:)

  22. Sounds like an interesting book, and Biafra doesn’t sound familiar to me either. I would have probably had to google it if you hadn’t explained it so nicely here!

  23. This is totally unrelated, but I’m really excited! I was looking up the book Bedlam South, and I saw the authors are going to be at our new Borders on Oct. 14th! Now…I need to get my hands on a copy of the book so I can read it before they are here!

  24. cj

    I’ve contemplated this one several times before. I’m still not sure about it…

    Oh, and btw, I tagged you. Drop on by to see.


  25. *Ramya – I like to space out books by the same author as well–I do really want to read her first book, though. I’m about halfway into My Father’s Paradise right now and am loving it! I probably won’t finish until mid-next week, but the book is so fascinating that I want to keep reading and reading.

    *Kim – Well, I had to look Biafra up on wikipedia. :) It is a very good book–I would definitely recommend it.

    *Laura – I think we should totally go and stalk out the author!! :)

    *CJ – I think you’d like it–definitely not a book to read when you’re in a reading slump, though. Heavy and longish!

  26. I just love when I manage to learn something of the world we live in by reading novels. Knowledge through the pleasure of reading a good story, that’s the best learning for me.
    Have you read The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende? I remember I didn’t have a clue who Pinochet was before reading it and by the end I felt an expert in Chilean history :P

    This sounds like a good read. A customer in the shop once recommend Purple Hibiscus so this writer is already in my radar!

  27. *Rhinoa – I’m really looking forward to readng Purple Hibiscus, although I think I’ll take a break in between. Hope you like this one!

    *Valentina – I read The House of the Spirits several years ago and while it was tough at the time I’d love to revisit it. Some of the imagery has still stuck with me through the years. I love learning through books as well!