Saturday, October 20, 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun

I picked up Half of Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in a Borders 3 for 2 deal. I was keen to read it after I heard it had won the Orange Prize for Fiction this year. I read a previous Orange Prize winner (Small Island by Andrea Levy) earlier in the year and enjoyed it; ergo, I thought the Prize might be a sound indicator for a good read.

I found the novel interesting. Owing to my birth being in the mid 1980s, I wasn’t around in the 1960s to have been aware of the civil war in Nigeria during that period. Consequently, this was educational – not just a ‘fiction’ read. I must admit I struggled initially to get into Half of a Yellow Sun but my perseverance was rewarded and it proved itself a really worthwhile read.

Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of three lives intersecting during the Nigeria – Biafra civil war. Ugwu is a poor boy who works as a houseboy for a university lecturer, Odenigbo (or Master as Ugwu refers to him when he is the narrator), and his wife, Olanna. Olanna has a twin sister, Kainene who is involved with a shy Englishman, Richard. Obviously, with the exception of Ugwu, they are all used to a fairly high standard of living.

All four Nigerian characters are part of the Igbo racial minority (Christians). First there is coup by Igbo members of the Nigerian Army, then they themselves are overthrown by the majority Muslim racial groups. There is widespread slaughter of the Igbo population in the north of the country. They retreat to the south establishing the independent state of Biafra. Civil war ensues and the characters, with the rest of the populace, struggle to survive (battling starvation). Relationships are tested and as Biafra’s demise becomes more evident they try to cope with their displacement to the bottom of the Nigerian social order.

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