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)