Author: Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publishing Date: 2007
Number of Pages: 433 pages
In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university lecturer. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. The third is Richard, a shy Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. When the shocking horror of the war engulfs them, their loyalties are severely tested as they are pulled apart and thrown together in ways that none of them imagined…
The Co-Morbidities of War and the Silenced Voices
The bitter realities of war have long been immortalized in different works of fiction. World War II, amongst others, is a pretty familiar subject as it is largely portrayed not just in historical fiction but also in young adult fiction. Wars, without a doubt, remain a very popular subject amongst today’s authors. As general and as profound as the subject seem, it is always deflating to read about one, no matter how fictional it is.
In this very same spirit, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Half A Yellow Sun takes readers to the realms of war and warfare. But unlike the mainstream works that deal with the more “popular” historical events, Ngozi Adichie set out to chronicle a war rarely heard of in the other corners of the world. Through her award-winning work, Ngozi Adichie conjured a landscape like no other, that of her home nation, Nigeria, at the height of its struggle during the Nigerian Civil War which lasted from 1967 to 1970.
“Then she wished, more rationally, that she could love him without needing him. Need gave him power without his trying; need was the choicelessness she often felt around him.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
The war is depicted through five main characters – twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, daughters of an influential businessman; Odenigbo, a university professor Olanna is love with; Ugwu, a village boy who is serving Olanna and the professor; and Richard, an Englishman who is enthralled with the enigmatic Kainene. Their lives were unsettled when Biafra’s declaration of secession from the rest of Nigeria, ignited a civil war. The war proved to be fatal as it shredded into pieces the lives of the main characters and their fellow Nigerians.
Ngozi Adichie painted a setting that we are all too familiar with. The oppressive gnashing of guns, the aggressive explosion of bombs, and the endless violence that has been known to characterize wars the world over. Experiencing war firsthand is dehumanizing and it is in this facet that Ngozi Adichie made the narrative of Half of a Yellow Sun flourish. Like Llosa Vargas’ The War at the End of the World, the novel preserves a pivotal part of history that many an individual has never heard of. It is, after all, every writers’ task to immortalize the evils of wars in words and in print.
The pursuit for independence often comes with a price. In a battle of political wills, what is often drowned in the ensuing pandemonium are the voices of the people who are too powerless to go up against the opposing sides. They are the ones who are forced to deal with the morbidities of war. They are often the ones who are always forced to flee. They are the first ones who suffer the consequences of things that they barely had any iota of. Ngozi Adichie powerfully echoed these smaller voices. It is disheartening but it is these realities that we need to read of in order to not repeat the same mistakes.
“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
Ngozi Adichie skillfully and powerfully captured the imagination of the readers with her vivid portrayals. Her balanced presentation into its morbidities is one of the better aspects of the novel. She made the readers hear the faint calls of the hungry mouths of the refugees, the exasperated gasps of the millions who are displaced, and the reverberating cries of those whose loved ones died from the war. It is chaos all over. The irony of it is that the instigators walk and breathe comfortably, secure in their own pedestals, oblivious to the suffering surrounding them.
Beyond the morbidities of the war, the back stories of the main characters gave the narrative a wonderful complexion. It reminds the readers that everyone has a story. The universality of their issues in marriage, affairs, and betrayals are attributes to the similarities Nigerians share with the rest of the world. Whether it be of hope or of pain, everyone has a story that the world must listen to. These back stories refine the reader’s appreciation of the narrative. Whilst marriage is a recurring theme, women empowerment is one of the novel’s greater accomplishments.
On a micro level, Half of a Yellow Sun shows the diversity that thrives in the entire African continent, in stark dichotomy to how it is perceived by a lot of people. Most consider Africa a s homogeneous country where people speak one language. That is not the case, that has never been the case. Even in a single country like Nigera, several tribes and cultures are prevalent. Books like Half of a Yellow Sun, Okri’s The Famished Road and Achebe’s Things Fall Apart are the world’s window to Africa, including its furthest and darkest corners.
Through Half of a Yellow Sun, Ngozi Adichie swept readers. The narrative stirs emotions and provokes thoughts. The boldly imagined and conjured characters are the quintessence of Nigeria and its peoples. They represent all facets of the societal spectrum. The interesting plot was also complimented by Ngozi Adichie’s nostalgic writing. Ngozi Adichie’s conviction to deliver her message is admirable. The depth of the plot and the characters all converge to convey the unheard stories of Nigeria.
“There was something wrong with her. She did not know what it was but there was something wrong with her. A hunger, a restlessness. An incomplete knowledge of herself. The sense of something farther away, beyond her reach.” ~ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun
Ngozi Adichie led the readers into a maze of wartime barbarity, political allegiances, and interpersonal relationships. Through this maze, Olanna, Ugwu and Richard are moral compasses who weave their way in and out of different conflicts such as morality, identity, and even, survival. In a rough landscape filled with kwashiorkor-plagued children, they are beacons that shine through the darkness.
Lest one forgets, war is never a great thing. Ironically, the ones who often suffer are the smaller “voices”, the smaller “people”. Their heartbreaking cries are drowned by the tumult. On a macro scale, the undertones of the narrative carries waves that ripple to other parts of the world; the cataclysmic impact of war is not loyal to one place. Interestingly, the story echoes the current state of Syria. Again, war is ubiquitous and voices like Ngozi Adichie’s draws readers closer to its morbidities.
Trivia: The title was derived from the flag of the short-lived nation, Biafra.
90%. It is a well-written, nostalgic, and thought-provoking book that one must take time to read.
P.S. Switching from star-rating to percentage-rating to have a more flexible and more objective rating scale.
(Photo by http://www.chimamanda.com) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born on September 5, 1977 in Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria.
Ngozi Adichie completed her primary and secondary education in Nigeria. For a year and a half, she studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria. At the age of 19, she left for the United States to study communications and political science at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She later on transferred to Eastern Connecticut State University where she graduated summa cum laude. She completed her master’s degree in creative writing at John Hopkins University in 2003. She also earned a Master of Arts in African studies at Yale University, graduating in 2008.
Ngozi Adichie’s writing was inspired by fellow African Chinua Achebe. One of her first published works is Decisions (1997), a collection of poems. Her short stories were critically acclaimed, winning awards like the O. Henry Award for The American Embassy and the BBC World Service Short Story Awards for That Harmattan Morning.
Purple Hibiscus (2003) was her first novel. It won the 2005 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best First Book. More success ensued as Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), her second novel, won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. Her third novel, Americanah (2013) was selected by The New York Times as one of “The 10 Best Books of 2013).