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Half of a Yellow Sun Paperback – September 4, 2007
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“A gorgeous, pitiless account of love, violence and betrayal during the Biafran war.” —Time“Instantly enthralling. . . . Vivid. . . . Powerful . . . A story whose characters live in a changing wartime atmosphere, doing their best to keep that atmosphere at bay.” —The New York Times“Ingenious. . . . [With] searching insight, compassion and an unexpected yet utterly appropriate touch of wit, Adichie has created an extraordinary book.” —Los Angeles Times“Brilliant. . . . Adichie entwines love and politics to a degree rarely achieved by novelists. . . . That is what great fiction does–it simultaneously devours and ennobles, and in its freely acknowledged invention comes to be truer than the facts upon which it is built.” —Elle
About the Author
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria, where she attended medical school for two years at the University of Nigeria before coming to the United States. A 2003 O. Henry Prize winner, Adichie was shortlisted for the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing. Her work has been selected by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association and the BBC Short Story Awards, and has appeared in various literary publications, including Zoetrope and the Iowa Review. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and longlisted for the Booker. She now divides her time between the U.S. and Nigeria.
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The novel takes place in mid-late 1960's Nigeria, during the time the Igbo people attempted to become the independent nation of Biafra. I heard about this civil war, but really did not know much about the horror which resulted.
The story is told through the perspectives of (3) main characters (but there are other terrific characters as well). There is Ugwu, a 13 year old house boy for professor Odenigbo who teaches at the university in Nsukka. He is a very observant young boy who notices how well he is treated compared to other house boys. For example, he sleeps in a bed and is given his own books. He tries his best to do everything right, but sometimes he takes things a bit too far like when he ironed his Mr. O's socks and burned a hole in them. He provides much needed humor at just the right times. Ironically, Odenigbo seems nicer to his house boy than most other people he encounters.
Olanna and Kainene are twin sisters who come from a wealthy family. Olanna is the beautiful sister, but lacks confidence. She becomes involved with Professor O and later moves into his home and the two eventually marry. At first Ugwu feels threatened by Olanna'a arrival, but then he becomes devoted to pleasing her.
Richard is a shy Englishman, a man who is not comfortable in his own skin. He's always felt inferior whether at home or in Nigeria. Richard has come to Nigeria as a expat to write a book about Igbo art. He becomes involved with Kainene, the twin sister of Olanna. Kainene is not considered to be attractive. She's somewhat aloof, very intelligent and financially savvy, and her relationship with Richard is tumultuous at times.
This story covers so many topics: war, genocide, relationships - infidelity, personal identity, loyalty, class struggles and more. It is a book that would make a great choice for book groups. It's beautifully written, the characters are fully explored and they are ones that will stick with you. The author knows how to write, and although this is a work of fiction, the information about the civil war was very informative. I found the graphic details of the war tough to read about at times, but because the writing had moments of humor and the characters were so interesting, it helped to take my mind off the horrors of war. READ IT!
But I do recommend the book to learn something about the events at that time.
Genocide does not simply happen overnight, and Adichie's slow build to tension and uncomfortable rhetoric through word of mouth, radio, and witness to events provides the perfect set up for the plot. The reader gradually becomes familiar with the delicate nature of ethnic tension between the Igbo, Yoruba, and Faulani in Nigeria. It is not until Olanna leaves her safeguarded world in Nsukka that ethnic violence becomes apparent. Still, it does not seem probable to she and Odenigo's eyes that political activity could descend into a form of violence inconceivable to humanity.
Adichie's treatment of the Biafran Genocide is painstakingly thoughtful. Of course no one wants to read about children dying slow deaths, but Adichie's portrayal of the starvation that grips Biafra is necessary, because we know these facts to be true. It absorbs the reader into the then-current feeling in Biafra, thus enhancing the reader's situational awareness. Too often, people know nothing of the violence in Africa; Adichie's earnest writing style helps to change that, by not only bringing a fairly unknown historical event to light, but to do it in such a way that readers can somehow identify and / or try to understand feelings of helplessness, loss, and anxiety in a war-torn setting. Food is a universal love, and Adichie so excellently portrays the grueling discontent and disbelief of the food shortage that ultimately touches every human in the region. Additionally, her continual reference to radio and other forms of public outreach (billboards, word of mouth) help paint a picture of propaganda, fear, and hope that all take place in wartime.