|Half of a Yellow Sun
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With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra's impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
- Captivating but tough
This is a recent winner of the Orange Prize, and deservedly so. Adichie's wonderful narrative skills are showcased in this book, in which she relates the post-colonial horrors in Nigeria, which, like most African nations, is comprised of many different regions, which co-exist within artificial boundaries drawn by the European powers that formerly controlled the area. In drawing these boundaries, little concern was shown for the historic African boundaries or population groups. This book, like "The Poisonwood Bible" and "The Darling", made me so angry at the countries which colonized and converted African countries and then left them in total chaos, no longer able to function on their own, an entire continent fractured and dependent. Before colonization, Africa's tribal culture and systems worked for its peoples, but the white man destroyed these. Perhaps the Africans did not live the way Westerners want to live, but who are we to say that their way was wrong?
In 1967, Nigeria's Igbo people, living in the eastern part of the country, seceded and formed the independent republic of Biafra, thus touching off a three-year civil and ethnic war of such horror, barbarism, and mass starvation that can hardly be imagined. We see a people totally unprepared for the ravages of war: cut off from the rest of the world, babies dying, unable to get the barest necessities of life. The reader is struck by the naivet¨¦ of the Biafrans who believed that they could actually win against the Nigerian forces. One reviewer bluntly said that Biafra was another child of war, dead at birth. By early 1970, starved into submission, the Republic of Biafra ceased to exist.
Rather than a story of the war, Adichie tells a story through the minds and experiences of several well-developed characters as she explores the ethnic prejudices of the Africans and the religious differences of Muslims versus Christians in Nigeria as its social fabric was torn apart. The presence of oil in the eastern part of the country made it unthinkable that one ethnic group could control it. Oil and religious differences....hmmmm, does that sound familiar?
The stories of affluent twin sisters, their families, friends, and servants are seamlessly woven together as they struggle to survive the atrocities and brutality of war and starvation yet try to keep their dream alive. It is a story of war, love, ideals, compromise, loyalty, betrayal, and the culture of Africa.
This novel immediately captivated me and would not let me go....it was enlightening and educational, meticulously researched, powerful and complex. This young author avoids making the book a political screed by making it personal and human. Dramatic and haunting, this is a book you will not soon forget....more info
- A great book on Bifran experience
This is a great book written by a fellow author and tribesperson. The Biafran war and experience remain active in many people's minds - especially those from the Bifran side of the conflict. It is always interesting to read accounts of this war, no matter how they are narrated. This was a great effort by Ms. Adichie!
Surviving the Iron Curtain: A Microscopic View of What Life Was Like Inside a War-Torn Region...more info
- Half of a Yellow Sun Comments
Ms. Adichie has a tremendously powerful command and control of language. She is able to draw the reader into the novel and keep one's attention throughout. She is expressive. Her imagery connects the reader in such a way that breaks in reading regardless of length allows for re-entering the novel with considerable ease. From the opening line to the end, I always felt I was present in the action. ...more info
- A Biafra Primer and More
What do we collectively know about the nation of Biafra? Images of starving children and the vague memory of a benefit concert come to mind. However, this historical novel will fill you in on many aspects of what this country was about - I say "was" because Biafra existed for 3 years only, at the end of the 1960's, when the Igbo people attempted formed their own nation by seceeding from Nigeria. The solid story arc is held together by a 13 yr houseboy, who interacts with a cast of well drawn and sympathetic characters, making it a page turner till the very end...more info
- Understanding Biafra
Nigeria's was created as a country by European powers after World War I, "uniting" three disparate groups of people: the Muslim Hausa in the North; Yoruba in the Southwest; and Igbo (or Ibo) in the Southeast. Nigeria gained its independence from the British Empire in 1960. Author Chimamandra Ngozi Adichie portrays the conflict that led to the Igbo declaring their independence as Biafra in 1967, and the ensuing war with Nigeria, through the stories of two Igbo sisters, Olanna and Kainene Ozobia, and their families and household members. The author provides richly detailed descrptions of the land and lives of numerous strata of Nigerian and Biafran society, and the devastation wreaked by the war that resulted in the starvaion of so many Biafrans. Adichi manages to enlighten the reader on everything from what the people ate to international policies that fed the disaster . . . an excellent work. ...more info
- A deeply felt novel
Two ebony-coloured Igbo (African) sisters, one outstandingly beautiful and the other thin but attractive, the former in love with an Igbo intellectual and the latter with a white Englishman,are the protagonists in this novel. The civil war between the enterprising christian Igbos and the conservative muslim Nigerians forms the flaming back-ground.When the British left India, dividing it into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India, there was sectarian violence in which thousands were killed and millions uprooted,Hindus migrating from Pakistan to india and Muslims to Pakistan from India.But no novel has so far depicted that tragedy with the same force, sensitivity and timbre of immediacy (i.e., feeling of being present at the event) as this novel does with reference to the conflict in Nigeria.The description by the younger sister how the body of her servant stumbled a few steps after the head had been knocked off by a shrapnel,is disturbing but realistic.The novel also shows that the war coarsened people by narrating the incident where the house-boy, otherwise decent, joins in the rape of the bar-maid.When Western Nations divided up Africa for themselves, they did so without regard to ethnic homogeneity and when they left, the mixed populations in such territories had to find the necessary adjustments themselves. Adjustments were not easy to make and bloody conflicts resulted. This book is not only a good novel. It is also a balanced critique of the aftermath of Imperial withdrawls. ...more info
- Near-Birth of a Nation
Resonating against the backdrop of current-day events in The Sudan is remarkable young author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's engrossing story set during the brief history of Biafra, a breakaway area of Nigeria that had a short, bloody existence as a nation during the 1960s. In the post-colonial era when many new African nations were born, many native Nigerians saw their new government as little more than a black version of their white European oppressors. Achidie's lead character, Professor Odenigbo, an ethnic Igbo, lives comfortably, to the extent that he can hire a houseboy, 13-year-old Ugwu. These two main characters provide the adult, academic and child's-eye, non-academic view of both revolutionary rhetoric and action.
Adichie's story of revolution is also a family story as Odenigbo's beautiful girlfriend Olanna, her twin sister Kainene, and her boyfriend, white author/journalist Richard become involved. Peripheral characters also play an important role in the interpersonal plot development. Adichie does a wonderful job describing the lives of various classes in Nigerian society - haves, middle-class and the dirt poor inhabitants of refugee camps. For me, she struck her only wrong note with a series of chapter summaries from a book being written by Richard. I felt that these could have been expanded to real chapters or left out. "Half of a Yellow Sun" refers literally to the design of Biafra's national flag. Ironically it also represents the reality of this small country, on which the sun never truly rose.
Highly recommended to readers of historical fiction, and to those who want to learn more about life in Africa. Four strong stars.
- I absolutely loved it!
This book is great. If I wasn't so anti-violence and war I could have easily finished this book in a day. A great read for all Nigerians, especially young Igbos. ...more info
- The best novel I've ever read!
Several times while reading I was brought to the point of tears, clutching the book to my chest and kept looking at the author's picture on the back of the book because I couldn't believe that someone so young could harness such brilliance. A true tour de force! Don't miss this one!
P.S. Anyone who criticizes the author's craftmanship is a nincompoop and deranged lunatic. Totally ignore them. ...more info
- the world was silent
This is the type of sweeping and heartfelt epic novel that tends to be overhyped by critics, but in this case the rave reviews are more than justified. Ms. Adichie has created a beautifully written and far-reaching work of historical fiction that capably explores crucial themes, and covers a historical era and place that will be little known to western readers. Adichie follows her well-drawn characters through the Nigeria of the 1960s, culminating in the doomed struggle for independence in Biafra and its cruel defeat by the European-backed Nigerians. Readers who disdain typical egghead praise for themes of post-colonialism, race, and class (not to mention the usually over-aggrandized "love and war") can ignore their fears because Adichie's exploration of these crucial themes is never heavy-handed. She achieves subtle yet hard-hitting insight into the horrors of war - particularly the divisive propaganda, ethnic strife, and false jingoism - via excellent characters whose spirits are tested by incredible hardship. This passionate and empathetic novel is destined to become a classic that easily transcends stereotypes, and the reader will learn about the complex nature of Nigeria and its peoples as well. [~doomsdayer520~]...more info
- Half of A Yellow Sun
Once you start reading HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, you'll find it hard to put it aside. What starts out like an innocent love story quickly turns into a serious thriller set in the Nigerian civil war over Biafra, Africa's first and major genocide of the 20th century in a country that supplies 15 % of America's oil, a war that cost millions of civilian lives. The author, Chimamanda Adichie seems too young to have lived through this harrowing experience herself, but her powerful novel truly invokes the realities of history and quickly immerses even those who had no clue. A must read for every person interested in the human condition, in genocide, politics and Africa....more info
- Half of a Yellow Sun
Although it took an inordinately long time for Amazon to locate this book,
when finally found and delivered, the book was in the condition described....more info
- Amazing characters-Unforgettable story
This book is SUBLIME! If you enjoy the fusion of foreign culture, politics and history in works of fiction, this is a "must read". I enjoyed the Purple Hibiscus, yet there is no comparison to the depths of the characters and plot of this book. The structure (rotating narratives of the 3 main characters and leaps in time) was innovative and worked fabulously to keep the intrigue high. This book is superior to The Kite Runner and other recent works of the genre that have gathered wide acclaim. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is on her way to being listed alongside Naguib Mafouz and Nadine Gordimer....more info
- One of the Best Reads in Some Time ...
I enjoyed and savored this book from beginning to end. I was absolutely transported to the time, early and late sixties during the Biafran/Nigerian war and the ill-fated struggle for a free Biafran/Igbo country. These were amazing characters to carry such a lofty social, political, emotionally charged story. Ugwu was a favorite character in recent history. Adichie's writing is beautiful, sympathetic and while racism abounded during that time, she doesn't stoop to be stereotypical with any of her characters, nor presuppose what must be in the mind(s) of "every Igbo academic" or "every British white male" etc. These are complex, layered characters. I think that is an amazing accomplishment. The tragedies of the Igbo upper class suddenly left starving and lost in the struggle for free Biafra were so well drawn, down to the details of soap, protein pill and the day-to-day sadness and lost hope of the people. Even minor characters left me with images, both the wartime horror and the daily human beauty, that I won't soon forget. I know this book just won the Orange award, but I'm suprised this novel has not gotten more recognition. It truly is an amazing book, in talent, story, subject matter. It also is hopeful and probably the finest fictional account (although largely based on fact) of one section of African history I have ever read ... and I have read quite a bit. Pick up this book and get lost for a few days ......more info
- Tragically Compelling
Like the events of Rwanda and Uganda, the true depth of the tragedies of the Nigeria's civil war largely escaped the Western world's consciousness and are only brought to light in remarkable books like Adichie's "Half of a Yellow Sun." Biafra's ill-fated struggle to establish an independent nation is beautifully and elegantly told through the eyes and voices of twin sisters of wealth Olanna and Kainene, and a highly intuitive 13-year old houseboy Ugwu. Olanna is mistress to a highly ideological university professor Odenigbo who fervently supports Biafran independence. Kainene is married to a British expatriate Richard who is enamored with the land and its culture. All find their own reasons for remaining in Biafra. And through them we learn how the people lived, loved, starved and suffered during this tumultuous period.
I, for one, am old enough to remember the Nigerian civil war and the million that perished during that struggle. I remember seeing the covers of magazines showing the starving Biafran children. Yet, the events then didn't seem as real as reading "Half of a Yellow Sun." Perhaps a befitting epilogue to this story is Richard's manuscript which was entitled "The World Was Silent When We Died."...more info
- Wonderful, engrossing story
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not about the Biafra war. It's a family drama set before and during the Biafra war. It is to Ms. Adichie's great credit that the reader does not have to know anything about the setting or the events of the war; her story will tell us all we need to know without trying to teach us outright.
There are five main characters. Central to the story are two sisters, twins, Olanna and Kainene, daughters of privilege with very wealthy parents and the best educations money can buy. Olanna gives up her wealth to become the mistress of Odenigbo, a passionate, young professor who holds regular salons where the issues of the day and plans for the future of post-colonial Nigeria are discussed. Kainene takes an Englishman, Richard, as her lover. Richard, who is white, can move among the inner circle of the Europeans who continue to live in Nigeria after Independence. He is also fluent enough in African languages and customs to achieve a quasi-insider status among Kainene's circle. The fifth character is Ugwu, Odenigbo's houseboy, who provides a window into village life and the lives of the lower classes in 1960's Nigeria.
The family drama that plays out among these five characters would be sufficient to fill a lesser novel. But this story is set in 1960's Nigeria, and the characters are all Igbo, even Richard initially stayed in Africa to study Igbo artifacts. In the 1960's, violence broke out between the largely Christian Igbo in Southern Nigeria and the Muslim Huasa in the north. The Igbo were brutally massacred in several northern locations and forced to flee the the southern part of the country. In response, they declared independence, and set up the country of Biafra. Nigeria, went to war to reunite the country and bring the land of Biafra, and the oil underneath it, back into the fold. Nigeria was supported by most of the world including England and Russia. Biafra was officially recognized by only a handful of African nations and never relieved much more than humanitarian support, and not very much of that. In spite of this, the tiny nation managed to survive for three years before finally surrendering to Nigeria.
I am not expert enough to comment on Ms. Adichie's presentation of Biafra's history, but as far as the novel goes, I don't think it matters if she got all of the details correct. The broader picture is accurate, and it's the novelistic details that really matter here--the story of how one family tried to survive famine, war and each other while the rest of the world largely turned its back and looked away.
Half of a Yellow Sun is a big novel, in the 19th century sense of the word. Ms. Adichie takes her time introducing the cast of characters to us. Each of the initial chapters is devoted to one or two characters, giving us a chance to really get to know one before we meet the next. Ms. Adichie takes her time introducing the war, as well. The book is divided into four sections that go back and forth between the early sixties, years before the war began, and the late sixties when the war took place. This works to help make an unbearable subject bearable. We need to know the what the characters and their lives were like before the war began to fully appreciate what happened and how the war changed them. The Biafran war itself is rightly remembered, when it is remembered, as one of the great horrors of the 20th century. Telling that story for 200 plus pages would make for very difficult reading. (Ms. Adichie would surely lose most of the members of my book club in the process.) The third part of the book flashes back from wartime to the more peaceful early sixties. But make no mistake, this is not a book that shys away from its subject matter. Each of the two sisters, Olanna and Kainene witness a very specific event that haunts them throughout the rest of the novel. Ms. Adichie is able to drive home all the terrible crimes of the Biafra war through these two events and through the changes Ugwu undergoes once he is conscripted to fight for Biafra.
I was struck by how much Half of a Yellow Sun reminded me of what I like most about Olivia Manning's Balkan and Levant Trilogies. Manning's six novels are about a British couple who spend World War II in civilian jobs, he is a professor, in Yugosalvia, Greece and Egypt, one step ahead of the fighting. They are set during wartime, but they are really the portrait of a marriage. What's memorable about Ms. Manning's work and about Half of a Yellow Sun is the characters, their lives, their loves, their struggle to survive and to stand for their principles under great duress. Both authors write to pay tribute to the people they depict, but Ms. Adichie also writes to pay tribute to an idea, Biafra, to remind us what happened there, to make sure the world does not forget.
- The Yellow Sun does not clear the horizon
We know from the blurb that this is a novel about the civil war in Nigeria; but it all begins placidly enough around 1962. Ugwu, a 13 year old boy from a poor village, is taken on as a houseboy by Odenigbo, a mathematics lecturer at the university of Nsukka, near Enugu, in the South-East of Nigeria, the area that would in 1967 be known as Biafra. (It would have been helpful if the book had included a map of Nigeria for those readers unacquainted with its regions and its geography.) He lives with the beautiful Olanna, who is back in Nigeria after having got a Masters Degree from London University, and who has moved from her home town Lagos (where the majority population was Yoruba) to Nsukka to be with him. They are all Igbos. Olanna has simple but much-loved relatives at Kano in the North, where the majority population are the Muslim Hausa. When she visits them there, "she felt that things were in order, the way they were meant to be" (p.39) Also in Nsukka, working on a book, is Richard Churchill, the shy English lover of Olanna's sister Kainene, who lives in Port Harcourt (the main port of what would become Biafra). All these characters and the relationships between them are well described, and they would have made an interesting novel on their own, even without the later parts about their experiences during the war.
The first section of the book brings to life many facets of Nigerian life (and food): the first-generation educated intelligentsia, so different from their parents and resentful of colonialism and neo-colonialism; the sleazy politicians; the servants; a host of Igbo expressions (though they are not always translated). Occasionally tribal differences are touched on, but nothing except such knowledge as readers may already have had prepares them for the ferocity that these differences will engender after Igbo officers overthrew and murdered Abubakar Balewa, Nigeria's first President and a Northern Muslim, in January 1966.
A counter-coup, supported by the Hausas and the Yoruba, put General Gowon in power in July 1966, and Igbos were attacked in Lagos and massacred in the North. The Igbos then proclaimed the independence of their region in May 1967 and called it Biafra. (Its flag had on it half the yellow sun of the title). In July that year Gowon launched an attack on the secessionist state. The Biafran War began. Eventually Biafra was battered and notoriously starved into capitulation (1970) after Port Harcourt had fallen.
These events naturally impinge on our cast of characters. Olanna is in the North when the massacre begins, and manages to escape back to Nsukka; Richard, too, returning via Kano airport from a visit to England, is a traumatized witness. Enugu, Biafra's first capital, and Nsukka, near the northern border of Biafra, had to be abandoned when the Nigerian army comes close to it. Odenigbo, Olanna and Ugwu move to Abba, Odenigbo's home town, which replaced Enugu as the capital; then have to move again, to Umuahia, the next capital; and then that town falls also. They experience air raids, food shortages, press-ganging and lawlessness, of all of which we have graphic and haunting images.
The book is divided into four sections, called respectively `The Early Sixties', `The Late Sixties', `The Early Sixties' and `The Late Sixities'. In other words the first and third sections are about the period before the war, while the second and fourth deal with the impact of the war. So in the second part there are unexplained allusions to the third. This kind of device works for the kind of novel in which the revealing of some secret is essential to the plot; but the point of it in this book escapes me.
But this is a small niggle about a memorable book about unforgettable people and about a war that should not be forgotten.
- One of the most Gifted Writers Ever
I am not sure how I wound up reading this book, but this author is absolutely amazing. This book grabs hold of you even before the first page. The title alone made me curious. I could not put this book down and I didn't want it to end. I could feel the emotion written on every page of this book and I felt like I was actually living in Nigeria during this time. The characters, their dreams, their happiness and their heartache all felt so real. I thought the storyline flowed incredibly well. I look forward to reading more books by this author. She has a rare gift and I don't understand how anyone could rate this book less than stellar....more info
- Great, great novel
This was a great read. I read it over a weekend. A most amazing, gripping tale of a problem I, regret to say, knew little about. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to get in touch with the African Problem....more info
- IMPRESSIVE ACCOUNT
Fantastic book on RELATIONSHIPS during the Nigerian civil war. When we were kids my (Nigerian) father would tell us stories about the 60's in Nigeria as he was also a professor at Ibaden. However, as kids we were never really intrested in the past. When I read this book I WAS BLOWN AWAY at how a stranger (the author) had put into writing everything I had been told over the course of my childhood by my father. I felt like the author had substituted the names of the characters and had stolen my fathers stories. AMAZING. (I'm now 45) And I feel ashamed that I paid little attention then, because to me they were just storeis but they were not....more info
- enthralling human story in the midst of civil war
In 1967, a significant portion of southern Nigeria declared independence as the nation of Biafra. An ugly civil war (what other kind is there?) ensued, ending with Biafra's defeat. Adichie recreates the feeling of that period as she follows three fictional characters on the Biafran side of the conflict: Ugwu, a little boy who works for a Nigerian mathematics professor; Olanna, the professor's partner; and Richard, an Englishman and aspiring writer whose partner is Olanna's twin sister. From these three viewpoints, we follow this family from soon after independence to the end of the war.
Although Adichie makes no claim that she is recounting history (in her author's note, she writes, "I have taken many liberties for the purposes of fiction; my purpose is to portray my own imaginative truths and not the facts of the war"), the book really feels authentic, like it captures the hope, the passion, and then the exasperation and disillusionment that evolved in the course of the war. I was left sobered. Upon finishing, I reached to pick up another book and had to put it down, needing time to process Adichie's powerful illustration of her father's adage: agha ajoka (Igbo for "war is very ugly").
The characters are well developed and the plot is engaging; I couldn't put the book down. There is some war violence (although for a truly graphic portrayal of African war violence, read Alexandra Fuller's Scribbling the Cat), but mostly the book describes the war experience for those not on the front lines. [For those concerned about this kind of content, there is also some language and some sex scenes (portrayed, says the Guardian, with "a rare emotional truth").]
The professional reviews have been very favorable. The San Francisco Chronicle called it "profoundly humanistic." The Guardian says that Adichie brings to the history of this war "a lucid intelligence and compassion, and a heartfelt plea for memory." They are correct: Read this book.
[The San Francisco Chronicle review is from Martin Rubin, "The birth and death of an African nation," September 5, 2006. The Guardian review is from Maya Jaggi, "The Master and his Houseboy," August 19, 2006.]...more info
- Your loss can only be measured by how much was in your dreams
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has excelled herself and the literary World with this outstanding story following the lives of 3 Nigerians and a British man during the suffering of the Nigerian Civil War. This was another book that I couldn't put down, although the characters are fictional the detail of the political backdrop is factual and an education to those more naive to the history of this African country. "Half of a Yellow Sun" is Adichie's second novel. Her first, "Purple Hibiscus," was short listed for The Orange Prize in 2004, and this second is short listed for The Orange 2007.
"Half of a Yellow Sun" is an epic set in Nigeria in the 1960s. It opens in the early 1960s with a young village boy, Ugwu, being taken by his auntie to his new job as house servant for an educated university employee, Odenigbo, at Nsukka university. Soon afterwards, Odenigbo's beautiful lover Olanna moves in. Olanna, like her twin sister Kainene, has been educated in London, and her wealth parents are not happy about her moving in with her academic lover. The reader is introduced to an array of colorful characters and quickly caught up in the events which occur on a domestic level, such as Olanna's life with Odenigbo and her less attractive, more cynical twin's relationship with an Englishman called Richard. But on the horizon, there are rumblings of dissent politically. The middle classes are at first interested in an intellectual way, and then, like the rest of their countrymen and women, involved directly in the increasingly dramatic course of events.
Adichie's novel is full of funny and tender moments as well as the terror and disruption of war. The first coup is followed swiftly by reprisal attacks on the Igbo tribes people by the Northern Hausa Fulani Moslems, and the breakaway state of Biafra is formed. The novel brought about an in-depth appreciation of the trauma of the civil war! Beyond war, it demonstrated a profound display of loyalty and commitment by a house servant, Ugwu to an entire family which in turn earned him immense up-swing in exposure level, literacy and human relations. There was so much bonding and love expressed between Olanna and Kainene irrespective of the fundamental breach of trust by Olanna's affair with Richard. The classical divide and rule tactics subtly employed by the British along with other major powers in a bid to control indirectly Nigeria and its resources was subtly made evident in the script. Odenigbo and his associates western-style academic and blossom social life gradually declined to subsistence or in fact non-existence. This clearly and marvelously threw the reality of agony of war in the face of an average reader.
Although fictional, it remains the greatest narration of Biafra war history that I have read so far. It provides me with a more empathetic position towards the group affected as well as all modern wars of today with the underlining reason being self-seeking economic gains. Adichie did a fantastic job and is clearly an exceptional author with immense future potentials.