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Half of a Yellow Sun (thoughts)

May 10, 2007

I adored Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie. Adichie is a master story-teller, providing the reader with exquisite personal stories wound up in a tragic national one. The story is set in Nigeria during the 1960s. For those who don’t know (this included me before the book), Nigeria experienced a horrific civil war from 1967-1970. The book is divided into four parts, two pre-civil war and two during the civil war. However, they don’t move in chronological order, instead it goes pre-war, war, pre-war, war. This device allows Adichie to build suspense regarding personal relationships, as well as show the reader just how much people changed during the war. The main characters are non-identical upper-class Nigerian twin sisters and their lovers, one a British guy, the other a revolutionary Nigerian uni prof. The final important character is a houseboy from the bush. Adichie rotates between these five characters’ points of view, allowing the reader to view Nigeria from all sides.

This book is so many things at so many levels that it’s difficult to do justice to it. As a sister myself, the story of the sisters’ relationship rung true for me. One of the twins is (conventionally) beautiful, while the other isn’t. They have different personalities as well, and aren’t as close as either would like. I also enjoyed the story of Richard, the Brit in Nigeria. As a white man, Nigerians view him as an outsider. However, he eventually some to consider himself Nigerian, learning one of the tribal languages, staying in Nigeria throughout the war, etc. Adichie presents these facts but leaves it to the reader to ‘find’ the contradictions. The relationships each twin has with her lover spoke to me; the twins are in their mid-20s, and I’m in my early 20s, so I understood a lot of what they were going through. At points, it almost felt as if I was having a cozy chat with some good girlfriends. Meanwhile, the houseboy is struggling to change from his bush roots to a sophisticated city boy. The prof sends him to school, and he’s treated like one of the family (albeit, a hard working member). For most of the novel, his story is mainly one of a kid going through adolescense, struggling with who he is, etc. However, towards the end, he is ‘drafted’ (i.e.-captured) into the military. All of a sudden, this likeable kid is doing some rather unspeakable things. I was very challenged, as the affection I felt for him earlier turned into outrage and horror.

And, of course, the war transcends all of these personal stories. We see the characters go from leading comfortable, upper-middle class lifestyles to being deprived, almost-starving war refugees. Also, for those of us who don’t know anything about Nigerian history, the book provided enough background to understand why the civil war occured. In this sense, I feel that the university professor was Adichie’s most obvious ‘device’: since he’s plugged in with the revolutionaries, he explains a lot to the reader, often through the houseboy. Of course, I also just didn’t like the professor (I didn’t think he was good enough for his lover!), so perhaps I’m just insulting him. :) See-this is what was so brilliant about the book. Adichie made these characters real people; I almost want to be able to e-mail them and ask them some more questions.

I highly encourage everyone to read this book. It’s an incredible introduction to Nigeria, as well as a well-written novel. To get a taste, look at the selections below.

Favorite Passages

There was something polished about her voice, about her; she was like the stone that lay right below a gushing spring, rubbed smooth by years and years of sparkling water, and looking at her was similar to finding that stone, knowing that there were so few like it. (24-5)

She was used to this, being grabbed by men who walked around in a cloud of cologne-drenched entitlement, with the presumption that, because they were powerful and her beautiful, they belonged together. (33)

Just as she had never seriously thought of having a child until now; the longing in the lower part of her belly was sudden and searing and new. She wanted the solid weight of a child, his child, in her body. (104)

Olanna felt the slow sadness of missing a person who was still there. (345)

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Bookie permalink
    May 10, 2007 10:54 pm

    See Eva, reading your post is what I love about the “book blogging” community. I get the chance to discuss a book, that I also loved. I didn’t know anything about the civil war before the book either. Its funny because I loved Igwu and the Professor, but didn’t care as much for Richard. It was a fantastic book, I’m happy to be reading yor review and to know that you too thought it was a special read. I need to read Purple Hibiscus (which has literally been on my TBR list for 2 years.) and I plan to keep following Adichie. She’s amazing.

  2. Bookie permalink
    May 11, 2007 12:19 am

    Eva – Maybe I liked the professor so much because I related most to Olanna. I was taken with their passion for each other.

    I thought the same exact thing about Adichie. She’s so young and so talented. I feel I will be a fan for a long time, honestly I feel lucky to have found her.

  3. J.S. Peyton permalink
    May 11, 2007 11:39 am

    This book has been on my “To Be Read” list for a while now. I might just have to pick this one up sooner than later. I’ve read that some readers were turned off/dissapointed by the way the characters ended. Did you find that to be the case?

  4. iliana permalink
    May 11, 2007 1:45 pm

    I bought this book recently but just haven’t gotten to it. It sounds so good! And, it’s now on the Orange short list isn’t it?

  5. JoV permalink
    October 17, 2010 1:41 pm

    This book is sitting so long on my shelf. I do want to read a book by Adichie soon!

    Iliana, the book won the Orange Prize in 2007.

  6. October 17, 2010 2:01 pm

    I love to read books that teach me something so this sounds like something for me – I know absolutely nothing about Nigeria’s civil war.

  7. October 17, 2010 4:41 pm

    Sounds like a good one for me to read and discuss with my friend at the office who is from Nigeria. I enjoyed talking to him about The Icarus Girl.

  8. October 18, 2010 4:02 am

    As you know, I love love love this book. Adichie got me started on my Nigerian literature obsession that is still on going :)

  9. October 18, 2010 4:29 am

    I must be in a minority as I just couldn’t get into this book. Perhaps it was because I was teaching at the time and the book required too much of my attention, that I just didn’t have to give. I will try and read this again, when my brain is fully active.

  10. October 18, 2010 5:22 am

    I love books that teach you something about countries you don’t know much about. And since I know absolutely nothing about Nigeria, I think I’d like this one! :-) I haven’t heard anything negative about this book, it’s nice when authors can spread information about historical events in such an accessible way… Makes the world better.

  11. October 18, 2010 6:25 am

    Thanks for the reminder of this book, I read it a while ago and reading your review reminded me of how much I enjoyed it.

  12. October 18, 2010 6:41 am

    I too know next to nothing about the civil war. Sounds like a good choice for me.

  13. October 18, 2010 7:32 am

    I’ve got this on my TBR but haven’t read it yet. I saw a documentary about Adichie which was brilliant and really made me want to read her books. Plus I don’t really know much about the Biafran War. I’ll come back and read your post more carefully once I have.

  14. Erin permalink
    October 18, 2010 4:30 pm

    I have heard of this book many times, but I’ve never read it. I didn’t even really know what it was about. But what you’ve written is extremely persuasive, so next time Half a Yellow Sun crosses my path, I’ll take a look. It sounds like a book worth reading!

  15. October 18, 2010 7:51 pm

    I absolutely agree with everything you said. This book was a revelation to me. Not only did I learn a lot about world history I had no knowledge of, but I was introduced to a fabulous and talented writer that I love to read. I have seen her talk live on two occasions, and whilst I don’t necessarily like her sense of humour (or get it anyway) she is a fascinating person

  16. October 24, 2010 5:45 pm

    Fantastic review of this book, Eva! I love Adiche, and this book was definitely one of my favorites…

  17. October 28, 2010 7:26 am

    I really enjoyed Purple Hibiscus so I hope to give this one a try soon. Thanks for the review!


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