It cannot be forgotten that war is very ugly – “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

September 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm 4 comments

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimama Adichie, Published 2006 

 “Half of a Yellow Sun” is amazing. Adichie’s novel documents the bloody and ruthless Nigerian civil war, the Nigeria-Biafra War, that lasted from 1967-1970.  It is an astonishing piece of literature.

Nigeria was named and made a British colony in the early 1900s (1901 to be exact).  Of course when Nigeria was formally “created” in 1914 it was a construct of multiple tribes and peoples not one country – it was instead drawn on a map for the convenience of colonization.  In 1960, Britain handed power back to the Nigerian people and a government was put in power, centralized in the North. The Igbo people largely occupied the South-Eastern portion of the country.

Adichie uses three characters to tell her story: Ugwu, a poor Igbo villager who has been hired to be a houseboy for a professor Odenigbo; Olanna, the Igbo woman who comes from a rich family and loves Odenigbo; and Richard, the white Englishman who has come to Nigeria to find himself as a writer.  At the beginning of this story, Ugwu serves Odenigbo and Olanna while they play tennis, have nightly philosophical drinks with friends and dream of independence from Nigeria. In 1966, the Muslim population in the North began a unilateral slaughtering of the Igbo people.  Richard finds himself in an airport as people with guns walking around asking each person if they are Igbo and then shooting them.  Finally, after a military coup on the central government, the Eastern portion of Nigeria decides to secede and names itself Biafra, with the half sun as its flag and symbol of a raising nation. Odenigbo, Olanna and Ugwu find themselves uprooted and as the story develops they face violence, starvation, and great loss. War changes them, making them both stronger and weaker.  To me the most compelling scene in the book is when Ugwu, the sweet innocent boy, is conscripted into the Biafran army and  finds himself gang raping a young barmaid.  Yes, it is tough to read but it speaks to that piece in all of us that says “I could never do something like that.” Because truthfully, in dire situations we do not know what we are capable of doing.*

What makes this story compelling is Adichie’s ability to weave her characters’ lives into the war.  It is not just story about people affected by war, it is a story about ideals that reality cannot meet, betrayal and forgiveness, tradition, and family.  It gives the reader a lot to contemplate while at the same time remaining universally human enough to keep the reader engaged with the characters.

Adichie also gently reminds the American reader that as all this was occurring a church in Alabama was blown up killing 4 little black girls and America was beginning it’s long war in Vietnam –  as if to say “just in case your superiority got the better of you…” Perhaps most importantly though, the reader will recognize the Igbo people, they are the people who the Muslims claim are too successful and will take everyone’s land if you let them, with the further charge that it is time to purify the country – this propaganda will sound eerily familiar. And again we will sit comfortably at a distance, amazed at the cruelty that is happening in another part of the world.

*American soldiers in Iraq find themselves struggling with this which author Jim Fredrick addresses in his work of nonfiction entitled “Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death.”

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Entry filed under: September 2011 reads. Tags: , , .

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Emma  |  September 20, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    That was a truly exceptional review. Well done I say. 🙂

    Reply
  • 2. ecrabtree1974  |  September 20, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Thanks em.

    Reply
  • 3. Reflections: Taken Back In Time… | Mirth and Motivation  |  December 21, 2011 at 1:09 am

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  • […] first read Adichie’s “Half of the Yellow Sun” a couple of years ago and fell fully in love with her writing.  Her story telling is intricate […]

    Reply

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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