Review: Half of a Yellow Sun
By Dibussi Tande
Set in Nigeria before and during the secession of Biafra, Half of a Yellow Sun revolves around five very different characters:
Thirteen-year old Ugwu, the fiercely loyal houseboy to Odenigbo, a revolutionary professor at the University of Nsukka and an unapologetic Biafran nationalist; the compassionate and sensitive Olanna, daughter of a wealthy Igbo businessman, who abandons the nouveau-riche lifestyle of post-independence Lagos for a more sedate, intellectual and passionate life in Nsukka with her lover Odenigbo.
There is Richard, a pro-Biafran British idealist who has a passion for Igbo traditional art and is in love with Olanna's twin sister, the placid, distant and enigmatic Kainene.
The lives of these characters is masterfully woven into the events of that tumultuous decade in Nigeria’s history which was marked by the first military coups in the country’s history, the anti-Igbo pogroms in Northern Nigeria, the Biafran secession, and the ensuing civil war.
Although the Biafran secession and civil war serve as a backdrop to the novel, Half of a Yellow Sun is not a history of those events. Neither is it a classic war novel. Although the Biafran story is ever-present in the novel, it does not intrude, distort, or overwhelm the central story. Even when the characters are caught in the maelstrom of war, it is still their individual stories that are at the forefront. This is a story of love, betrayal, infidelity, forgiveness, hope, loss, grief, survival, resilience and broken dreams.
As we get to know the principal characters, we cannot stop ourselves from bonding with them – even in their most flawed moments - and wistfully hoping that their dreams would come true. Alas! This is fiction which solidly anchored in history – immutable history.
So we know how the outcome of the civil war; the Land of the Rising Sun shall never come to be; the half of the yellow sun (emblem on the Biafran flag) will never grow full-blown, but will wither under the unrelenting attack of federal forces. Nonetheless, we hungrily read on because we desperately want to know whether our protagonists make it out of the war unscathed, and whether their relationships survive the war.
With Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie has delivered a compelling book on love and war, on family and friendship, and on ethnicity and national identity. In this regard, the Los Angeles Times review is right on the mark when it observes that:
“…with searching insight, compassion and an unexpected yet utterly appropriate touch of wit, Adichie has created an extraordinary book, a worthy addition to the world's great tradition of large-visioned, powerfully realistic novels.”
Adichie’s vibrant and fresh, brash and unfettered style reminds me of Wole Soyinka, although she is always compared to the more conservative Achebe. Either way, Adichie is a writer in her own right who is already blazing a unique trail for herself on the Nigerian, African and world literary scene.
Adichie is one of the few emerging African writers who have the potential to be universally recognized as a great novelist and not just an “African writer” (with the literary Ghettoization that this term invariably entails in some parts of the world).
Visit Half of a Yellow Sun's Official Website to learn more about the novel and its author.
Click here for Adichie’s BBC Radio interview.
Biography: CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is from Abba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka. After starting a degree in medicine at the University of Nigeria, she went to the United States to Eastern Connecticut University where she earned a degree in Communications and Political Science, and then to Johns Hopkins University where she obtained a Masters in Creative Writing.
She was a 2005-2006 Hodder Fellow at Princeton (Hodder Fellows are individuals who have demonstrated exceptional promise, have published one highly acclaimed book, and are undertaking significant new work that might not be possible without the "studious leisure" afforded by the fellowship ). She is presently pursuing graduate work in the African Studies program at Yale. She divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
Her short fiction won the International PEN/David Wong award in 2003. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was also short-listed for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in Granta and the Iowa Review among other literary journals, and she received an O. Henry Prize in 2003.
Adichie is a contributor to the recently released paperback, This Is Not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America's Best Women Writers (August 2006). Her short story titled "The Thing Around Your Neck", is described as “a tale of a young Nigerian immigrant's challenges in finding her place in the United States.” She is a regular contributor to the Guardian (London)
What they say about Adichie:
“We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers.”
I have just finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun, the second novel by highly-acclaimed young Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I have to agree with critics that with this novel, Adichie has confirmed, if need be, that that she is one of the best writers of her generation, and that she is indeed “the 21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe,” as the Washington Post enthused in a review of her debut novel Purple Hibiscus.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Half of a Yellow Sun is published by Fourth Estate: London. 2006. 433 pages.
Dibussi Tande is a Cameroonian journalist and writer. He blogs at Dibussi.com
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