Wednesday, August 7, 2013

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What I remember about Biafra can be summed up in one word:  starvation.  The real story, though, is a lot more complicated.  Three lives unfold in this novel about Nigeria during that turbulent time.  The first is that of Ugwu, a teenager who becomes the houseboy for Odenigbo, a university scholar and idealist.  The second is Odenigbo's girlfriend, Olanna, the daughter of a tribal chief and successful businessman.  Third is Richard, an Englishman who is in love with Olanna's practical but headstrong sister, Kainene.  All except Richard are Igbo people and find themselves fearing for their lives when the Nigerians in power begin to threaten the Igbo with genocide.  War breaks out, and the Igbo secede, forming the country of Biafra.  Optimistic until the end, the Igbo profoundly believe that the war will be short, and Biafra will triumph.  Certainly, the novel describes how the people adapt to an abrupt change in quality of life, but the author doesn't dwell on the hardships.  Ugwu, whose background is more impoverished than that of the others, in some ways has the most difficult adjustment, as he has to stay out of sight to avoid conscription.  The main theme, though, is betrayal, making our characters somewhat of a microcosm of Nigeria itself, with an end result of uneasy peace and unimaginable loss.  I have to admire how Adichie made this piece of history live and breathe, with an inside look at its effect on those who lived through it.  Reading this book was certainly a learning experience, and I absorbed some of the pain emanating from these characters.  I had one major objection, and that was that there's a 4-year gap in which something traumatic happened.  The author repeatedly alludes to these life-altering events, and I kept backtracking to see if I had missed something.  Later in the book she reveals what happened, but I found it very annoying that she kept teasing me with this omitted information.

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