Half Of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow SunWith astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor’s beautiful mistress, who has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. And Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s twin sister, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and they must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.

Well, let me take a deep breath before I begin.  Whew. This was far and away the best novel I have read since The Book Thief.  The book is based on the Nigeria-Biafra  War of 1967-70.  The story is told through the eyes of three characters.  Ugwu, the houseboy to a professor with radical ideas.  Olanna, the professor’s girlfriend, and Richard  a white Englishman who is in Africa to study and write a book.  

We meet all of the characters pre-war, so we get to take that terrible journey with them, to see how they are transformed and how their intersecting lives and relationships are affected.  When properly done, I really enjoy books with multiple narrators.  It lets you  experience the story through different perspectives.  It’s actually quite amazing that a book can allow you to walk in the shoes of three different people and experience their thoughts and their lives.  Not only are the main narrators amazing, but the book is filled with many other extremely well drawn, and memorable characters.  Reading this book felt a little like watching a movie in which all of the scenes are put together with careful precision. 

The writing felt effortless and graceful.  As one critic said, “The prose is admirable, but we’re not meant to admire it. We’re meant to stare through the glass until it disappears, for Adichie possesses a nineteenth-century confidence in the sufficiencies of traditional narrative…” — Will Blythe, Elle Magazine, October 2006.

I also appreciate the fact that even though the book is about a civil war, I didn’t feel the book was mired down with too much politics.  There was enough there to understand the major points of the conflicts without being bogged down with details and political dialogue.  The focus remained on the characters and how they were dealing with such extreme circumstances.

There is one more detail I cannot leave out.  The setting.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in the same region that the book was set in, so she had very clear images to draw from in her book and she does so brilliantly.  She really created a three dimensional world that I felt like I could reach out and touch.  I could feel the dust in my nose, and dirt on my feet.  This is what I love about books.  The power they have to transport you to places you would otherwise never go to or even imagine. 

Now when I hear or see something about Africa, I will remember the places I have been in this book.  I will think about a war I previously knew nothing about.  I will remember the names, Ugwu, Olanna, Odenigbo, Kainene.  I will appreciate that I have this knowledge.

Arize was laughing.  her plump body, her rounded arms, shook as she laughed.  Olanna held her close.  She felt a sense that things were in order, the way they were meant to be, and that even if they tumbled down once in a while, in the end they would come back together again.  This is why she came to Kano: this lucid peace.

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BITS AND PIECES

The Biafran flag, which inspired the title: Half of a Yellow Sun.

biafra_flag.jpg

To go to the website for Half of a Yellow Sun, click here.

To read an excerpt from the book, click here.

To hear an NPR interview with Chimamanda Ngosi Adichie, go here.  It’s excellent!  I can’t beleive she’s only 29!  Wow!

Chimamanda Ngosi Adichie also wrote Purple Hibiscus, a book that has been on my TBR list FOREVER.

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14 Responses to “Half Of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie”

  1. I’m halfway through this book right now. Thanks for the great review. I’m actually still not sure what I think. I’m not having any trouble reading it, but I’m not as connected to the characters as I’d like to be. I’m not sure why this is….

  2. Hmm…Don’t know, I felt the connection almost instantly. I hope it gets better for you.

  3. I am quite interested in reading this book. My ex was Nigerian, and my son therefore has that as a heritages.

  4. Ooh great review! I’ve had this one on my list since it came out. I loved Purple Hibiscus and am so excited to hear that her second book doesn’t disappoint.

  5. Marg – I think you would like it esp. since you have ties to the country.

    Illiana – Thanks. I can’t wait to read Purple Hibiscus now!

  6. wow-I’ve adjusted by reading across borders list to add this one. Thanks for pointing out such a great book!

  7. Eva – Your welcome, I just hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  8. u are too much, my biafran girl

  9. Amaka Umeasiegbu Says:

    I met Chimamanda at a book signing here inLagos Nigeria, she’s amazing.Besides this book being an incredibly well spun tale, that Biafran War story needed to be told, its a past that can help rebuild us and indeed a lot of Africa if it’s remembered and the lessons taken into conflict resolution

  10. Obinna – TY

    Amaka – Thanks for your comments. I agree, the Biafran War story needed to be told.

  11. […] +Speaking of which, I realise that I’m not caught up on my Reading Across Borders reviews. So, I’d like to put up ones of Madame Bovary and Palace Walk soon. Also, I’m switching out the Achebe for Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Partly because I’ve already read an Achebe, partly because of Bookie’s excellent review. […]

  12. i had never heard about this book until i was asked, “who is the authour of the book HALF OF A YELLOW SUN?”
    guess what? i chose Chimamanda uncertainly among the options, and i was right. i have read the summary i think it is going to be very interesting, and i can not wait to read in details.

  13. reading this book right now and i cant put it down..its incredibly engaging and so sad at the same time…adichie is a great story teller

  14. Hi, will like to know other books you have written before.

    Thanks
    Reading Nigerians (on facebook)

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