168 of 174 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2007
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I could not put this book down! The story grabbed hold of me immediately and soon I was living in the lives of the main characters. There are many ways to look at this book: it is a love story; a history; about African culture; about starvation; a war story; a book about families and loyalty; it is about facing fatal horror and trying to find meaning; it is literature; and it is a keeper.
The plot cannot be condensed into one theme or story. It is about loving someone with whom you have real and painful differences, the heartache, companionship, and ultimately, acceptance of each other and of the love that you have. It is about how disparate members of a family cope with plenty and with poverty. It takes you into the war for Biafra and the details are harsh, stark, and they make you pause.
Adichie presents us with an honest story; there are no happy endings; many compromises. This is the beauty of the story - it is honest, real, lyrically relentless in depicting a point in time that was a shame of a nation; of a world.
Adichie's novel will haunt you and it will stand the test of time.
82 of 86 people found the following review helpful
Every novelist has a unique story simmering in her (his) head, a story that she feels she must write; Arundhati Roy had "The God of Small Things", V. S. Naipaul had "A House for Mr. Biswas", and Chimamanda Adichie had "Half of a Yellow Sun". "This is a book I had to write," Ms. Adichie has said. "I have been thinking about this book my whole life."
When a writer thinks of a story for years, and then sets out to write it with care and passion, the prose flows as heartfelt, and the novel shines. As a result, long after you finish reading this novel, you will feel your mind lit with the light of this powerful, frightening and also deeply moving novel. Written in simple but elegant prose, her style reminded me of the great Indian writer R. K. Narayan: "He looked up at the ceiling, so high up, so piercingly white. He closed his eyes and tried to reimagine this spacious room with the alien furniture, but he couldn't. He opened his eyes, overcome by a new wonder, and looked around to make sure it was all real. To think that he would sit on these sofas, polish this slippery-smooth floor, wash these gauzy curtains."
And like R. K. Narayan, who was well-known for his short stories, Chimamanda also has written short stories as well. (She has been compared with Chinua Achebe, but I haven't read any of Achebe's novels.)
In Nigeria, in the late 1960s, there was a civil war between the Muslims in the north and Christians in the south, in the state of Biafra. Ethnic cleansing and massacre of Biafrans followed. As a result, Biafrans tried to secede from Nigeria. The half of a yellow sun refers to the emblem of the flag of the state of Biafra. Using this war as the background, the author has written a story involving five central characters: Ugwu, aged 13, who arrives at professor Odenigbo's house to work as a houseboy, and Olanna, a beautiful young woman who chooses to become Odenigbo's mistress, and Olanna's not so lovely twin sister Kainene, who is in love with Richard, an Englishman. Because other reviewers have narrated the story in brief, I do not feel the need to narrate it again.
There are beautiful, subtly erotic passages, as well as graphic passages depicting sex and violence and blood-curdling brutality. I have no doubt that similar incidents, as depicted here, did indeed occur in Biafra. But you need to have an iron stomach to be able to read these passages without feeling sick and fearful.
I wish to conclude on a cheerful note however, because I really admired this novel, and so here is a passage I wish to quote. Even though it is slightly erotic, I found it quite lovely: "But he liked going on errands to her house. They were opportunities to find her bent over, fanning the firewood or chopping ugu leaves for her mother's soup pot, or just sitting outside looking after her younger siblings, her wrapper hanging low enough for him to see the tops of her breasts."
This is truly a memorable novel; but it's not for the weak-hearted. It's even more impressive and more accomplished than her critically acclaimed first novel, Purple Hibiscus. "Half of a Yellow Sun" is an apt title, perhaps; but the novel is luminous like a full moon.
112 of 123 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2006
Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun
By Amanta Usukpam Ukpaghiri
I finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun and was left with a lingering sense of sadness at having completed the novel too quickly. I wished it continued and that l continued to read it, perhaps, for a very long time. It is a masterpiece of a work, destined to be a classic; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has trod where many others have feared to tread. She has taken the pain and suffering and horror of a people - the Igbos -- and given them novelistic prominence, and by so doing, asked historical questions that still demand answers. She, in effect, stands athwart the current amnesia in Nigeria and requests that the country comes to terms with the Igbo sub-nationality and either accept it as a full member of the polity -- or leave it alone to its own devices. Admirably, she is (as she said in an interview) "insistently and consciously" Igbo - and unlike several economic climbers in today's Nigeria, is never shamelessly apologetic that she is Igbo.
This book is truly more than a novel - although even as a novel, it is extremely well crafted, brimming with characters that come alive and leap off the pages and embody events that unquestionably took place in the history of Nigeria. Indeed, this book is a form of historical narrative that tells the story of Igbos' vibrant engagement with Nigeria in the 1960s before the civil war, the massacres of tens of thousands of Igbos following military intervention in politics, and the period of the civil war itself from 1967 to 1970.
Chimamanda has achieved several noble things with one stroke. She has furnished literature with simple, elegant and sharp sentences and a (albeit horror) story beautifully woven together in paragraph after paragraph. She has also written a history of the Igbos during a certain period of time. Finally she has presented a literary monument to love and relationships and hope and human dignity. Her characters - - their lives, their triumphs, and their failures - speak to the enduringness of love and truth and the dominance of the human spirit.
It is simply amazing that Chimamanda is only 28 years' old -- she was born 7 years after the war ended. Yet she tells her story with a level of insight, maturity, compassion, knowledge and deftness that belies her age. It is abundantly clear that her writing is the product of tremendous research on her part of the events that led up to and including the civil war. This is fiction based on facts - or "faction."
Chimamanda's characters are seen in every day life in Nigeria. Ugwu exists in several houseboys in Nigeria with ambition and intelligence who continue to rise by dint of application of their brains and hard work and focus to attainment of lives of accomplishment. Ugwu's sense of ownership of his Master, Madam and Baby is quite widespread among faithful houseboys. Odenigbo - the professor of mathematics at University of Nigeria, Nsukka -- is the quintessential intellectual, perhaps, with his head caught up in the clouds with numerous ideological constructs and deconstructs. Kainene and Olanna are extremely human characters whose sisterly relationship with each other ironically blossomed in the midst of the war - and became warmer as they came to experience the horrors of the civil war together. Richard comes across as familiarly tragic - wanting to belong to and in Biafra and never belonging or never accepted as belonging.
Which brings us to the concept of belonging. It is a concept that Chimamanda explores in her novel. Miss Adebayo was never seen as belonging; and of course, neither was Richard. Indeed, the Igbos who had lived in the Northern part of Nigeria for several decades were never seen as belonging. Nor were the Igbos who had lived in Lagos: Chinua Achebe escaped death in Lagos during the massacre of Igbos by a hairsbreadth. The parallels between Igbos and the Jews are really striking. Belonging is a potent concept; witness the current acrimonious debate raging in the industrialized countries over immigration, which is inextricably linked to who belongs and who does not.
This is a story that has universal applications even as it is largely set in Igbo land. It tells the story of political conflict and war and love and hate and betrayal and oppression and human affirmation that is contemporary and resonates with the human condition.
It will be eminently interesting to see how this "transcendent novel" in the words of Publishers Weekly - which has been received with great literary acclaim in the United States and Europe - will be received in Nigeria. It is safe to predict that it will be seen in certain quarters through dogmatic lenses that will uncritically seek to brazenly question the novel's premises. But this will be largely besides the point - because Chimamanda has rendered a classic and has told a story about a historical necessity - the defense of and by a people from being wiped out from the face of the map.
Just a few quibbles. It was 20 and not 50 pounds that was vengefully decreed by the Government of Nigeria as the amount to be (and which was) given in exchange for all the money held by each former Biafran. Before the war, Cross River Igbos would have been referred to as Bende people and not Imo people. And the settlement in Port-Harcourt would have been called Umuokirisi and not Rumuokirisi - that came after the war. But these are mere quibbles and do not affect the historical accuracy of the novel regarding the lives and times of the Igbos before and during the civil war.
Chimamanda has rightly been described as the 21st-century successor to Chinua Achebe, and she indeed displays the same sophisticated simplicity in her writing and similar deep historical insights laced with philosophical wisdom. Indeed, Achebe describes her as being "endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers" and asserts that she "came almost fully made." The serious bent of her writings is to be widely applauded. There surely is a literary ferment afoot among young Nigerian writers in the diaspora. And Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is at the crest of that ferment. To end with Achebe's words: In writing Half of a Yellow Sun, "Adichie knows what is at stake and what to do about it."
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Most of us will have little knowledge of the Biafra war, except, possibly, for the media's haunting images of starving children. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings her people's world to us in this beautifully crafted, deeply moving, novel. Set in Nigeria during the 1960s, the narrative alternates between the optimistic early years of the decade and the civil war period at the end of it. With her extraordinary storytelling skill, Adichie draws the reader into an absorbing account of fictionalized realities that is impossible to put down - or to forget after the last page is read. With this, her second novel, she confirms her international reputation, established first with Purple Hibiscus, as one of the leading new voices of African literature.
While the war for Biafra's independence, born out of highly complex Nigerian and international political circumstances, provides the essential context for the novel, Adichie's focus is on the personal and private, the struggle of the civilian Igbo population. Her depiction of the horrors of war, the starvation and destruction is realistic. Yet she does not allow these scenes to take over and succeeds in not overwhelming the reader with them. By concentrating on one family and its close circle of friends and neighbours, Adichie creates an intimate portrait of these people's lives during both these critical periods. She paints her characters and their ongoing interactions against the panoramic view of events and environments that influence their lives and challenges their peace and even their existence.
Central to her story are the twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, from a wealthy middleclass Igbo family. The beautiful Olanna leaves Lagos for a university environment to be with her political firebrand lover, the math professor Odenigbo. Kainene, on the other hand, having inherited their father's talents, shines as a confident business woman. English researcher and writer, Richard, friend of Odenigbo, falls under her spell. Adichie explores the interactions sisterly intimacy and love as well as its serious tests with sensitivity and empathy for both. Through them and their surroundings she also touches on the social, political and religious tensions of the time.
The list of main characters wouldn't be complete without Ugwu. Brought into the Odenigbo household as a house boy, he matures from the naive village boy to become a well educated, articulate and caring member of the extended family. In fact, Ugwu acts as a sort of understudy to the narrator, adding a very distinctly personal flair to the description of events and bridging the reality of his own family's rural environment with that of the intellectually stimulating social gatherings at the professor's house.
During the war years, intimacies, friendships and loyalties are put to the test. Will they survive the dramatically changed circumstances that the group finds itself in? Some are evicted from their homes and have to join the endless stream of refugees to find shelter and food for survival. Others move into remote rural areas to escape the fighting. Olanna's efforts to maintain her dignity and to protect her small family come alive on the page. So does Kainene's work with her confidence that she can beat adversity and barriers in her efforts to maintain the supplies for a refugee camp. They don't lose hope or humanity. Odenigbo and Richard have their own demons to tackle. And Ugwu juggles his various roles while attempting to maintain something of a private life for himself.
Half of a Yellow Sun, also the symbol of the short-lived Biafran state, represents some of the best that storytelling has to offer. With strong imagery and beautiful language Adichie has created a masterwork. [Friederike Knabe]
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 2007
Ms. Adichie takes on a world she didnt experience directly, events that are bigger than her and yet she somehow succeeds at mastering them and taming them with mere written words and I owe her a debt of gratitude.
It is an epic fictional tale of events that took place amidst the real Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). Like Chimamanda, I am Nigerian, I am Igbo, I should be Biafran. Biafra is a never talked about portion of Nigerian history. It is like a bad word, an open festering sore, unspoken about in mainstream Nigerian politics and history. Shame. I myself knew little of it despite having a father who fought in the war and a mother who survived it. Chimamanda who is my contemporary brought it to life for me.
The book follows the lives of several characters, their relationships to one another, and their lives before, during and after the war.
It also tell us the background of the War; it's colonial and ethnic beginnings.
I imagine that the writer must have been overwhelmed at times while writing this book. It must have taken a lot of courage to write about something so painful and so personal but I fancifully or truthfully think that like Frodo's Ring, it was her burden to bear and mine as a reader to share. I'm a lesser form of Sam Gamgee.
I also really love the names of some of her characters. It reminds me of the beauty of the variety of the Igbo. Iam Igbo and yet have never heard of those names. They must have been specific to the writer's state of origin/dialect.
A magnificent book and yet I only give it 4 stars out of 5. Why?
Because at times, some things and characters just stick out of place like a compound fracture, throwing the story slightly off course and giving it a vague air of contrivance. Or maybe, it is the reflection of wartime. Things dont always make sense. I'm not going to give examples as it is my own opinion which you may not share and I wont give away any spoilers.
Also, I am fiercely loyal to Kambili of 'Purple Hibiscus'. That book just means so much to me because in many many ways, I am Kambili.
All I can say is that the writer displays her impressive versatility because this book is nothing like her debut novel. Also, she tackles the psychological aspects of her story quite admirably.
I like the ending. It is not false and I like the open endedness that is sad but true, reminiscent of her previous novel. It couldnt have ended any other way.
You will not soon forget the major chracters (Olanna, Ugwu, Odenigbo, Baby) and some minor ones (Nnesinachi, Anulika, Mrs Mokelu). Adichie is a wonderful storyteller and I will always read her stuff.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2009
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.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2006
I have just finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun, the second novel by highly-acclaimed young Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I have to agree with critics that with this novel, Adichie has confirmed, if need be that, that she is one of the best writers of her generation, and that she is indeed "the 21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe," as the Washington Post enthused in a review of her debut novel Purple Hibiscus.
Set in Nigeria before and during the secession of Biafra, Half of a Yellow Sun revolves around five very different characters; Thirteen-year old Ugwu, the fiercely loyal houseboy to Odenigbo, a revolutionary professor at the University of Nsukka and an unapologetic Biafran nationalist; the compassionate and sensitive Olanna, daughter of a wealthy Igbo businessman, who abandons the nouveau-riche lifestyle of post-independence Lagos for a more sedate, intellectual and passionate life in Nsukka with her lover Odenigbo; Richard, a pro-Biafran British idealist who has a passion for Igbo traditional art and is in love with Olanna's twin sister, the placid, distant and enigmatic Kainene.
The lives of these characters is masterfully woven into the events of that tumultuous decade in Nigeria's history which was marked by the first military coups in the country's history, the anti-Igbo pogroms in Northern Nigeria, the Biafran secession, and the ensuing civil war.
Although the Biafran secession and civil war serve as a backdrop to the novel, Half of a Yellow Sun is not a history of those events. Neither is it a classic war novel. Although the Biafran story is ever-present in the novel, it does not intrude, distort, or overwhelm the central story. Even when the characters are caught in the maelstrom of war, it is still their individual stories that are at the forefront. This is a story of love, betrayal, infidelity, forgiveness, hope, loss, grief, survival, resilience and broken dreams.
As we get to know the principal characters, we cannot stop ourselves from bonding with them - even in their most flawed moments - and wistfully hoping that their dreams would come true. Alas! This is fiction which solidly anchored in history - immutable history. So we know how the outcome of the civil war; the Land of the Rising Sun shall never come to be; the half of the yellow sun (emblem on the Biafran flag) will never grow full-blown, but will wither under the unrelenting attack of federal forces. Nonetheless, we hungrily read on because we desperately want to know whether our protagonists make it out of the war unscathed, and whether their relationships survive the war.
With Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie has delivered a compelling book on love and war, on family and friendship, and on ethnicity and national identity. In this regard, the Los Angeles Times review is right on the mark when it observes that:
"...with searching insight, compassion and an unexpected yet utterly appropriate touch of wit, Adichie has created an extraordinary book, a worthy addition to the world's great tradition of large-visioned, powerfully realistic novels."
Adichie's vibrant and fresh, brash and unfettered style reminds me of Wole Soyinka, although she is always compared to the more conservative Achebe. Either way, Adichie is a writer in her own right who is already blazing a unique trail for herself on the Nigerian, African and world literary scene.
Adichie is one of the few emerging African writers who have the potential to be universally recognized as a great novelist and not just an "African writer" (with the literary Ghettoization that this term invariably entails in some parts of the world).
Dibussi Tande [...]
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2008
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.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2007
Africa is undeniably hip right now. Just ask Oprah, Bono, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, among other luminaries, make their annual pilgrimages between the "third" world and the "first" world to remind us of our moral obligation to our long-suffering brothers and sisters in Africa. From the continent has come one of the finest writers I have read in a long time. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the author of Purple Hibiscus, and her latest masterpiece, Half of a Yellow Sun. In this novel, which won the prestigious Orange prize for literature in the UK, Adichie brings Nigeria in the early '60s to life.
Through the lives of her central characters, we see the political and cultural tensions that were brewing in the years leading up to the Biafran war, a brutal conflict initially started by tribal differences. Thirteen-year old Ugwu is employed as a house boy to a radical University professor, Olanna is the professor's beautiful and privileged girlfriend who has eschewed her bourgeois life for the brilliant professor. Richard is a shy, insecure Englishman who seeks to rediscover himself in his relationship with Olanna's sister, Kainene, a fierce, mysterious woman who is beholden to no one. Adichie wasn't even born when these events were unfolding, but she heard stories about the war and its aftermath from her parents and other relatives who were swept up in these apocalyptic events that ultimately led to much suffering for Nigeria's people.
Why read this book? Aside from the political and moral questions it raises, it's a compelling read with complex characters who will leave you reflecting on their stories long after you have finished the novel.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2008
Just finished reading this novel by Chimamanda Adichie, and though hesitant to read it - given the accolades it had garnered - and wary of approaching with overblown expectations; I am relieved that it almost entirely measured up to its praise.
Many earlier comments have approximated mine so suffice it to say that I also connected immensely with some of the rich characters - Olanna, Ugwu and Kainene to be precise. I in turn had quibbles with some of the characters. Richard as has been commented on, but also Odenigbo who, for a key character, I found a little too much of a foil for the story. Much of the conflict and contradictions we glimpse of him seems contrived and merely functional in moving the story along or providing grist to develop a more textured Olanna on. Perhaps this is because we do not get to explore this character sufficiently and he thus compares unfavorably in complexity.
That said, this is a story that has etched these characters in my mind and many parts of their narrative resonated deeply with mine. And that to me is what a great novel is about. Being Nigerian. this story and its context is also of some personal significance.
For those who, having read the novel, are interested in a 45 minute BBC rehash of Biafra and that time in Nigerian history, I found a link to a BBC documentary on YouTube that may be a starting point. Search for Biafra in case Amazon shreds the link I added here ([...]