HALF OF A YELLOW SUN
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 


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Forth Estate, 2006
Reviewed by Sally Roddom

At the time of the 1960 Nigerian independence from Great Britain, the country had a federal constitution comprised of three regions defined by the three principal ethnic groups in the country. The first region was the Muslim Hausa/ Fulani semi-autonomous feudal states in the north. The second was the principally animist kingdom of Yoruba in the southwest; and the Christian Igbo were the third group in the southeast. As the British withdrew, the barely suppressed ethnic tensions broke out. In 1966 some 30,000 Igbos were massacred by Hausas, as reprisal following an ill-fated coup in the Nigerian Government by Igbo military. Over one million refugees fled to their Igbo homeland in the east, and in May 1967, the Igbo region formally seceded from Nigeria and the Independent Republic of Biafra was born. Nigeria responded with military force, and a bloody civil war ensued. The Nigerian forces, backed by Britain and the USA, gradually advanced. By 1969 the Biafran people were cut off from the sea and surrounded by Nigerian troops. At this point Nigeria closed the borders, all supplies into Biafra were severely restricted. Starvation gradually defeated the Biafrans. In January 1970, the short-lived Biafran nation fell and was re-incorporated into Nigeria. It is believed that over one million people died of starvation during the war.

It is with this heartbreaking civil war in the background that Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sets her second novel, HALF A YELLOW SUN. The whole conflict is seen through the eyes of three characters. The first is Ugwu, a peasant houseboy who comes to work for a professor with revolutionary ideas. The second character is Olanna, an educated, wealthy Nigerian woman who becomes the mistress of the professor. Finally, there is Richard, a white man who is in Nigeria to research Igbo art, but is drawn into the conflict through his love for Olannaís sister. It is through these three narrators that the reader experiences lives being turned upside down by ideals and war. You see how they go from a comfortable existence to a life where everything familiar is taken away. Rape, torture, murder and the fight for survival destroys the last vestiges of civility. The characters come alive for the reader, just leaping out of the pages straight into your heart. This is an emotional, and horrific, period of world history. Adichie is able to let the reader see the horrors without letting you drown in them. Even at the very worst part of the ordeal she is able to inject a little humour to show that all the spirit is not destroyed. This book made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me angry that humans are able to do this to each other. Donít be put off by the politics; they are in the background only. The real story is the survival by those whose lives are influenced by politics without fully understanding the nuances of political motives. The story is about uselessness, despair, love, standing up for what is right. It is about relationships, as well as what makes innocent people turn into war criminals. It is a book you must read.

Jan 2007

 

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