Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Once upon a time I liked happy endings. But lately, I've been reading some pretty dark books...and I've been okay with the fact that everything isn't neatly wrapped and tied with a bow at the end. Half of a Yellow Sun falls in this category. This book is relentlessly real, from its descriptions of war and starvation, to its characters and their actions, and ultimately to the destructive effects of war on countries and classes and families and individuals.
This is an amazing book. Adichie takes a little known historical event (Biafra's attempt at independence from Nigeria), adds in some memorable characters, creates a strong story set against the historical event and then she jumps all over the 1960s in the telling of the story.
Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of five individuals as events lead them towards civil war. Young Ugwu serves as houseboy to Odenigbo, a university professor who is caught up in the politics of the era. When the beautiful Olanna, a sociology professor, joins the household, Ugwu becomes quite devoted to the couple. The story also includes Olanna's estranged twin sister Kainene, and her English lover, Richard. As the story jumps back and forth through the 1960's and the events leading to the massacres of the Igbo and the succession of eastern Nigerian and the creation of the nation of Biafra and the subsequent civil war, we see the effects of war on each of the characters (and yes, I know that sentence could use some work, but I'm too tired to bother). As Kainene and Olanna lose their privileged upper class status, they grow closer together. As Odenigbo is forced out of his middle class, university life his weaknesses become more apparent. We see Ugwu forced to grow up amidst the horror of war. And Richard...well, poor clueless Richard pretty much flounders around for most of the novel.
I think I've said this before, but I'm a sucker for books where I learn something important without feeling like I'm reading a history text or being preached to. And actually, the history in this book isn't readily apparent. I had to google a few things to get some additional background info. If you are going to read this book, it would be helpful to have a little bit of knowledge about the Hausa, Igbo (or Ibo) and Yoruba, as well as the brief existence of Biafra.
If you are at all interested in historical fiction set in Africa I'd recommend this book. And even if you're not, it's still a fantastic read, definitely worth the time and emotional investment.