Thursday, August 06, 2009

8. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: Half of a Yellow Sun
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Fafarina
Pages: 435
ISBN: 978-073-149-x
Year: 2006

Half of a Yellow is the second of Adichie's books. The story presents the struggles, the heartbreaks, the loss, the unity, the hopes and disappointments of a family and a people during the Biafran war of 1967-1970. Olanna and her sister Kainene had just arrived in Nigeria after their academic sojourn in the United Kingdom with great expectations: one to join her 'revolutionary lover' and become a lecturer at the university and the other to takeover the family business, respectively. However, just before they could settle down and realise their dreams, the coup that would start a series of massacres and later lead to secession and its concomitant warfare, occurred.

The overthrow of the Hausa government by the Igbo-led military resulted in dissension amongst the Hausa population of the military. This is because there was a general feeling among the Igbos that the Hausas were given the major positions in the government, whereas the Hausas also felt the Igbos wanted to rule every aspect of Nigerian life after they have with their strong business acumen taken control Nigeria's commerce. To make matters worst the BBC also described the coup as an 'Igbo coup'. Consequently, a second coup became inevitable and the Igbo-led military under Major Nzeogwu was overthrown by an Hausa-led military coup under Gowon. After the coup all Igbo soldiers were ferreted out, arrested and killed, leading to a widespread anger in the larger society between the Igbos and the Hausas. This led, first to the massacre of Igbos in the northern Hausa states, then to secession and the creation of the Biafra state as an independent country for Igbos, and then finally to a full-blown war.

However, Half of a Yellow Sun is more than a story of the Nigerian civil war. It is a story about the life of a people in the midst of war. For instance, as the war progressed the difference between the predicaments of an ordinary houseboy such as Ugwu, university professors such as Professors Odenigbo, Okeoma, Ezeka and co, the rich such as Kainene and Olanna and the poor such as Ugwu's family became smaller and smaller till it tapers to and converges at a point where everybody has to eat the same kind of 'invented' and 'derived' food, drink the same kind of water, live in the same type of bullet-riddled houses. The difference between the privileged and the under-privileged is lost or confined to a part of the mind that refuses to divulge such scenes and events that make such distinction stark, lest they swindle faint hearts into unnecessary jollity. In the course of time, life's everyday activities such as drinking tap-water, eating thrice or twice in a day, free movement, using perfumed soap in bathing became lost in the memory of a time forgone. This is seen in the reaction of Olanna when she was gifted with such items as perfumed soap, powdered milk and tin fish, items she could easily have afforded before, but which have now been labelled as luxury items.

Besides, during the war, when everybody seemed to be living on rented life and death was loitering everywhere, Kainene found life so precious that grave misdeeds became petty and forgivable. Such was the feeling that Kainene, after witnessing the decapitation of one of her 'houseboys'-Ikejide-by a shrapnel, quickly patched-up issues with Olanna. Dreams were dashed, hopes lost and lives forever changed. Richard comes to Nigeria from the UK after learning of the Igbo-Ukwu art and to write a book but later falls in love with Kainene. He learns the Igbo language and commits to the course of Biafra, but both of these lovers were to be lost at the war's ending.

Adichie maintained the tempo and suspense of her book by the way she structured the sections of the novel. The book is divided into four parts: Early Sixties, Late Sixties, Early Sixties and Late Sixties. This way the suspense was maintained by supplying the precursor to certain actions and decisions, earlier taken, at a later period. For instance, by the second part, Kainene and Olanna were not getting along but the cause of this alienation and estrangement between the sisters were never revealed until the third part. The narrative is refreshingly innovative and superior. For Adichie, who was born way after the war has ended, to tackle the civil war and make you feel it with all your five senses and more, shows the extent to which she had studied and understands her subject. As one reads the story, one begins to feel as if he/she is an extension of the character's feelings. You smell what they smell with their nose and taste what they do taste with their tongue. The events of the novel comes alive at every turn of the page, locking you in your own Biafran thoughts. Adichie follows no one. Adichie is herself. One of the new generations of African writers poised to topple the established Achebes.

Another tool that makes Half of a Yellow Sun so beautiful a novel is the portrayal of reality and the making of events as they should be or as they usually are rather than embellishing it with the 'living-happily-ever-after' nonsense that pervades most works of fiction. Adichie never over indulges and gives you what it is that life has to offer. Life has never always been fair, if not how could we accept that it was only towards the end of the civil war that Kainene went missing, never to be found (dead or alive) even after her parents had placed several adverts in almost every newspaper.

The novel continues in your mind even after you have read the last word of the last sentence because there are many questions that remained unanswered. For instance, what happens to Richard? How would Odenigbo and Olanna handle his drunkenness and her withdrawn psychological state? What about Ugwu? Would he continue schooling? Would Kainene ever be found? Or would we ever know what happened to her?

This is a book I would recommend to fans of the classic novels and those of popular fiction. Adichie's novel is a must for everyone who is a reader and you would not be disappointed. However, it is disappointing that getting a copy of the book in Ghana is very difficult. One sure source though, is the Legon bookshop.

ImageNations' Rating: 6.0 out of 6.0

Read my review of 'Purple Hibiscus', also by the author.

8 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book. It sounds like a must read, I have put it on my tbr list.

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  2. Thanks Sandra. This is a good book.

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  3. So glad to see that you have read it!! Really brilliant stuff and excellent review.

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  4. i started reading this book but i lost my copy and now i wish i could point a gun to the head of the thief.

    from the very first page the characters come to life like breath itself.

    it's a nice read i know even though i've only read a few pages.

    thankfully i got another copy and i can't wait to start reading again (i'm slowly and very slowly enjoying 'The Healers' by A K Armah for now)

    man, you are doing wonderfully well.

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  5. @Abena...I take the advice of my friends seriously, though I don't act on them foolishly. I knew it would be a great book just as you told me and I made a promise to you that I would read it. Hahaha I am glad that you passed by to see it for yourself. I have read it...thanks to you I wouldn't have discovered this gem of a writer

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  6. @Novisi...I am happy you have acquired for yourself another copy. It is a pity that we don't have enough bookshops around here in Ghana. Thanks for your compliments. I passed by Legon bookshop and I didn't see 'The Healers', though I bought 'Two Thousand Seasons' and 'Fragments'. I hope to get a copy of that together with 'The Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born'. Presently reading the 'Two Thousand Seasons'

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  7. I'm glad that you liked this book, it was the best book I read in this past year. I loved the characters and I used to think of them after finishing the book. What would Odenigbo say in this situation? (He would definitely say "you are such an ignoramus", ahah, I came to love that funny expression of him).
    It sounds strange to me that it is difficult to find it in Ghana, seen that it's a Nigerian book. The cover also is very different (you can read a review on my blog and I think I also posted the cover which I absolutely adore).
    I've also read her fisrt book, "Purple Hibiscus", it's equally beautiful but "Half of a Yellow Sun" is my favourite so far.

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  8. thanks Stefania. Yes, Odenigbo would definitely say that 'you are such an ignoramus'...and 'how are you my good man', thus when he is in a happy mood. Yep it is difficult to find. I wonder why. I was expecting it to be rather common. The cover I got is what I found on the net though it is different from the one I have at the cover of the book. It is not my favourite...my favourite is the one I have. It speaks volumes itself. Those dark silhouette and the lanky dark coloured people indistinguishable from one another in a line of migration, as if to say 'see the effects of war'. I have not gotten myself her first book 'purple hibiscus', may be next month...heheheh have exhausted my budget for novels this month. Definitely I would visit your blog and read your review.

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