- Fizzy Thoughts: Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
September 2006
543 pages

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.

19 comment(s):

J.S. Peyton said...

I'm interested in all of the above. I haven't read a single bad review of this book, yet I still haven't read it. I don't really know why. I used to prefer happy endings too, but like you've I become content with stories that don't wrap up neatly in the end. Besides so many great stories don't end 'happily ever after.'How could I deprive myself?

I just got a coupon from Borders. I think I know where my money's going today. = )

Great review!

lilly said...

You know I will be reading this book since I am such a fan of Achebe and his Igbo tribe. I'd love to read another's take on Nigeria and her people.

bermudaonion said...

I do like historical fiction set in Africa, so I've got this on my wish list. I'm glad to see it's good.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I also like books from which you learn something. It's like a double bonus!

bethany said...

I read this last year and really liked it.I was a little hard for me to read sometimes, but always incredibly good. I want to read something else by this author!

Melody said...

I'm really intrigued with this book after reading so many good reviews on it. I'll have to add onto my wishlist!

Elizabeth said...

I think I've read enough good reviews of this one that I need to find it!

Veronica said...

i LOVED this book. it was so good. glad you enjoyed it. maybe you'd also be interested in her other, "purple hibiscus."

Ti said...

I'm reading this one right now and have to finish it before my book club meets this thursday. I am enjoying it as well. I added Purple Hibiscus to my "to read" pile as someone from book club said it was also good.

Melanie said...

This is an incredible book. My only gripe with the book was that it needed maps. I went online to get some maps so I could follow the story better.

Beth F said...

I love historical fiction, I love an African setting. Guess what's going on my wish list?

raidergirl3 said...

It was really good, wasn't it? I would like to read her other book now. War sucks so bad.

Jo-Jo said...

I do love books that are set in Africa, whether they contain historical information or not, so I may have to look into this one!

Dar said...

I agree Jill, this is an amazing book. It's one of my favorites from last year.

softdrink said...

JS - I think it's destined to be a classic...and I don't think I've ever said that before.

lilly and Kathy - I think you'll both like it!

rhapsody - and bonus, we're not in school!

bethany - is it worth 5 chickens?

melody and elizabeth - it's totally worth buying, imo.

Ti - it's books like this that make me want a book club.

Veronica - yes, I plan on reading Purple Hibiscus, too!

Melanie - I did the same thing...google is my very good friend.

beth - stay tuned...I mioght just give it away.

raidergirl - Yup, war sucks big time.

Jo-Jo - I highly recommend it!

Dar - I think this one will be in the top 10 for me for 2009.

violetcrush said...

I loved this book too. As you said there is so much to learn in this. I know so much more about Biafra Civil war now than I did before.

Gentle Reader said...

I loved this book, too! It was informational yet emotionally satisfying. I also enjoyed Purple Hibiscus, but not quite as much :)

Eva said...

I loved this one too! And then I read Purple Hibiscus, and I was shocked to find I loved it even more! I can't wait for her short story collection to come out this year. :)

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I like that you said, "I'm a sucker for books where I learn something important without feeling like I'm reading a history text or being preached to." Exactly! I love historical fiction for this reason. I enjoyed this book as well but was confused on a lot of the details as well.

In a real sense, people who have read good literature have lived more than people who cannot or will not read. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. ~S.I. Hayakawa

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
~St. Augustine

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
~Mark Twain

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