Review

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN|| Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The world was silent when we died … the title of the book within this book encapsulates the message of Adichie’s story.

If I’m honest, the idea of war has always been as real as what I’ve seen on tv. Nothing quite as heart pulling and soul wrenching as this story. That’s the power of fiction I wish many experienced. The next time I read, watch or listen the news about a war torn country I will remember these characters and each of their stories and my empathy will be amplified.

It is vital that we tell our stories. If only just for this.

Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of two lovers: Olanna and Odenigbo, their family and friends.

Set in Nigeria in the late 60’s during the Nigeria-Biafra war, Adichie tells a spellbound story of love, humanity, and survival.

In her narrative of this story, slow brewed and intentional, Adichie romanced, enticed, betrayed and blew me away all at once. As brutal as the tale was she sprinkled it with some humour and actual romance.

The book starts with an absurd line from a character that soon and unexpectedly grips my heart and becomes my favourite character hands down.

Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair.

I mean come on, this is so gripping, you are definitely left wanting to know more about the character as well as his master. Add to that if you are not laughing, you are pretty close.

Adichie starts her book with mystery and intrigue, a winning formula. We immediately feel like the story is being told to us – as if there is a sense of exclusivity, a closeness.

From the onset we already know our character, Ugwu, is not high up the socio-economic ranks, neither is he high up the education ranks. He works for someone, Adenigbo, who is the total opposite of him, this will automatically make for a good story. Humanity and relationship form majority the first part of this book. A lot of it may be ideal, but it is also heart-warming and relatable.

This is a story of human survival during the war. A story of injustice and the endurance of the human spirit. The impacts of a blind faith and a blind hope. The emotional and mental power of believing in something outside of ourselves, for what we perceive to be for the greater good of the world. It is a story drenched in history and politics, in power and class, in hunger and poverty.

There isn’t a single one of Adichie’s characters who isn’t faced with one or more difficult situations or conflicts. Further to this, she creates situations where the worst conflicts are unavoidable. She creates high stress situations between the main characters in a very seamless and logical manner.

The story uses a third person limited narrative though it does this from multiple points of view, primarily those of the main characters.

Suspension of disbelief is the power of a great work of fiction as far as I’m concerned. Adichie’s story is so believable, her characters are so real. I fell in and out of love and back in love so many times with some of them. She has made them so human it’s hard to believe they do not exist.

My favourite character by far is Ugwu. He has a moment (one) of unforgivable weakness in my eyes that really does cause him to lose a lot of merit. But then again, he’s so relatable and believable, that given the context it’s really hard to judge him harshly.

My second favourite is Kainene. She embodies an almost magical resilience in a world that has not been fair to her based on how she looks. I love how she makes her own rules and how she stays true to her convictions no matter who is watching.

The third character I like is Richard. I like him in a strange way though. He is both fragile and strong. He is very burdened, and remorseful and even I dare say apologetic about who he is. As if he is on a one-man roadshow to reconstruct Africa’s views on whiteness. He is both shallow and deep all at the same time.

Adichie’s treatment of her ‘small’ characters is profound and impactful. No one forms part of this story without reason. And everyone has the opportunity to leave a stain in the reader’s memory.

The use of dialogue as a tool comes out more in the conversations Odenigbo has with his friends. Each character is revealed clearer the more they talk. We have the assistance of the interpretation of their dialogue by other characters. However, even without this we already know for ourselves who they are. This also rings true for all the characters in the novel. In their speech we find out more about who they are.

The war setting is the obvious conflict and tension in the book. It also brings with it some suspense. However, Adichie also creeps in conflict which brings with it tension and suspense into the relationships within this story. The intrigue of these conflicts is the question of whether or not they will ever truly be resolved. In there also is a mirror held up to the reader on which conflicts we let live and which we ignore in our own lives.

Adichie’s writing is immaculate. Her tone and rhythm is apt for this story. This is the third book of the author’s that I’ve read. The other was a speech – I’m not even sure if that counts. However, her tone and prose is an unmistakable signature. Her voice comes through in this work as well.

The pace of the book, I’d say, is fast when speaking of the good times, the early 60s, before the war, and pain stakingly slow when addressing wartime days. This could have been a deliberate technique on Adichie’s part, for readers to feel the angst and meaning of time as the characters did. If so, then it was well executed and once again believable and effective.

Of war and Nigeria, where this story is set, I know nothing – or maybe I should say, not enough. This was a luxury I enjoyed as any reconstruction Adichie did to achieve this story was of no bother to me as I am unaware of the records of the Nigeria-Biafran war.

I would classify this as an adult war-time historical fiction. I have no idea what the correct genre classification is, but I often make up my own mind on this one thing based on how I interpreted and received the book. Lol, so do forgive if it’s not the actual classification.

Half of a Yellow Sun left me shattered. To say the very least. I should have known no war story has a happy ending – but still, I mean, COME ON! I cried.

I’m not really sure how well executed the ending was though, but I do understand it. I just get the sense that often times authors rush the ending of books, as if it’s something to hurry along and wrap up. That said, her ending wasn’t entirely heinous – but I still think it could have been done better.

War is a mean device. This book questions its necessity and its fruit. Most importantly though, it brings to life those civilians who are mere casualties of war. They start to matter. As do those who are left to pick up the pieces and continue living post-war.

The world really was silent, a sharp silence that reverberated through-out the pages of this book. Who should have ended the war?

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more painful story of human survival.

 

 

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