Thursday, November 1, 2012

Literary Bite: Half of a Yellow Sun

I started reading Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on a sunny DC afternoon at Eastern Market. A man passing by stopped to say, “That’s such a great book, you’ll love it!”

Well he was right, and I did!

The story is set in Nigeria in the decade after its independence from Britain. The country descends into civil war, and the southeastern region attempts to succeed and become the Republic of Biafra. Muslim north versus Christian south, looting, roadside bombs, starvation warfare, refugee crises, interfering foreign powers – this was an entire conflict I knew nothing about but is “at once historical and eerily current” (NYT).

  • “Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.”

I told my Mama about the story when I was home, and she said it sounded a bit too dry and educational, but it’s not at all! The wartime setting serves as a backdrop for a story about families (especially sisters), relationships (marriage, dating, and intercultural), race (oh hai European expats), and how different people react to the stresses and challenges of war.

The central characters are Olanna and Kainene, twin sisters from the Lagos nouveau riche, who were once close but became estranged over time due to the relationships they pursue and their goals in life. Olanna is in love with and lives with a radical Nigerian intellectual, while Kainene falls for a Englishman, Richard. The novel almost seemed too modern in this regard – it is set in the 1960s (the Biafran War was from 1967-1970), and call me pessimistic, but the prevalence of interracial relationships and strong independent women seems a little bit out of place? But who knows, maybe Nigeria was different…it’s just that the attitudes seemed so modern that I had a hard time remembering we were in the ‘60s.

I liked the any-place anytime aspect of the story though, since every conflict and relationship and situation Adichie explores is essentially timeless.  (As I person who works on conflicts, African ones specifically, the ways this civil war are fought really struck a chord. In a sad but accurate way.)

Adichie is herself Nigerian, though she wasn’t yet born in the ‘60s. This is her second novel (Purple Hibiscus is her first novel and I want to read it!) Oh and of course it’s being made into a movie, to be released in 2013.

I loved this book, and my Mama did read it and loved it too. Definitely worth picking up!