Thursday, May 10, 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun (thoughts)

I adored Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngoza Adichie. Adichie is a master story-teller, providing the reader with exquisite personal stories wound up in a tragic national one. The story is set in Nigeria during the 1960s. For those who don't know (this included me before the book), Nigeria experienced a horrific civil war from 1967-1970. The book is divided into four parts, two pre-civil war and two during the civil war. However, they don't move in chronological order, instead it goes pre-war, war, pre-war, war. This device allows Adichie to build suspense regarding personal relationships, as well as show the reader just how much people changed during the war. The main characters are non-identical upper-class Nigerian twin sisters and their lovers, one a British guy, the other a revolutionary Nigerian uni prof. The final important character is a houseboy from the bush. Adichie rotates between these five characters' points of view, allowing the reader to view Nigeria from all sides.

This book is so many things at so many levels that it's difficult to do justice to it. As a sister myself, the story of the sisters' relationship rung true for me. One of the twins is (conventionally) beautiful, while the other isn't. They have different personalities as well, and aren't as close as either would like. I also enjoyed the story of Richard, the Brit in Nigeria. As a white man, Nigerians view him as an outsider. However, he eventually some to consider himself Nigerian, learning one of the tribal languages, staying in Nigeria throughout the war, etc. Adichie presents these facts but leaves it to the reader to 'find' the contradictions. The relationships each twin has with her lover spoke to me; the twins are in their mid-20s, and I'm in my early 20s, so I understood a lot of what they were going through. At points, it almost felt as if I was having a cozy chat with some good girlfriends. Meanwhile, the houseboy is struggling to change from his bush roots to a sophisticated city boy. The prof sends him to school, and he's treated like one of the family (albeit, a hard working member). For most of the novel, his story is mainly one of a kid going through adolescense, struggling with who he is, etc. However, towards the end, he is 'drafted' (i.e.-captured) into the military. All of a sudden, this likeable kid is doing some rather unspeakable things. I was very challenged, as the affection I felt for him earlier turned into outrage and horror.

And, of course, the war transcends all of these personal stories. We see the characters go from leading comfortable, upper-middle class lifestyles to being deprived, almost-starving war refugees. Also, for those of us who don't know anything about Nigerian history, the book provided enough background to understand why the civil war occured. In this sense, I feel that the university professor was Adichie's most obvious 'device': since he's plugged in with the revolutionaries, he explains a lot to the reader, often through the houseboy. Of course, I also just didn't like the professor (I didn't think he was good enough for his lover!), so perhaps I'm just insulting him. :) See-this is what was so brilliant about the book. Adichie made these characters real people; I almost want to be able to e-mail them and ask them some more questions.

I highly encourage everyone to read this book. It's an incredible introduction to Nigeria, as well as a well-written novel. To get a taste, look at the selections below.

Favorite Passages

There was something polished about her voice, about her; she was like the stone that lay right below a gushing spring, rubbed smooth by years and years of sparkling water, and looking at her was similar to finding that stone, knowing that there were so few like it. (24-5)

She was used to this, being grabbed by men who walked around in a cloud of cologne-drenched entitlement, with the presumption that, because they were powerful and her beautiful, they belonged together. (33)

Just as she had never seriously thought of having a child until now; the longing in the lower part of her belly was sudden and searing and new. She wanted the solid weight of a child, his child, in her body. (104)

Olanna felt the slow sadness of missing a person who was still there. (345)


Bookie said...

See Eva, reading your post is what I love about the "book blogging" community. I get the chance to discuss a book, that I also loved. I didn't know anything about the civil war before the book either. Its funny because I loved Igwu and the Professor, but didn't care as much for Richard. It was a fantastic book, I'm happy to be reading yor review and to know that you too thought it was a special read. I need to read Purple Hibiscus (which has literally been on my TBR list for 2 years.) and I plan to keep following Adichie. She's amazing.

Bookie said...

Eva - Maybe I liked the professor so much because I related most to Olanna. I was taken with their passion for each other.

I thought the same exact thing about Adichie. She's so young and so talented. I feel I will be a fan for a long time, honestly I feel lucky to have found her.

J.S. Peyton said...

This book has been on my "To Be Read" list for a while now. I might just have to pick this one up sooner than later. I've read that some readers were turned off/dissapointed by the way the characters ended. Did you find that to be the case?

iliana said...

I bought this book recently but just haven't gotten to it. It sounds so good! And, it's now on the Orange short list isn't it?