Half of a Yellow Sun – book review

Hi everyone! Welcome to or back to my blog!

Today I thought I would share with you a book review of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as this was my homework for my English Lit A level and I thought I may as well share my finished review, in case it is of interest to anyone!

For me, this book was the perfect opportunity to learn about African history and in particular Nigerian history. It was fascinating to be able to learn about how one of the quickest developing countries, with a high GDP per year and booming economy today, had emerged as one united country in a time of conflict and uncertainty decades ago and has since surpassed all expectations as a great and strong African economical power-house.

The book is complicated and difficult to get into at first, but you begin to feel at ease in the world of the wealthy people of Biafra soon after the first opening chapters. Their lives are lavish and exciting and all at once, you feel involved in their lives too. The protagonists include Odenigbo ‘the master’ who is a lecturer and an intellect. He feels strongly about black equality and rights, but also teaches. Olanna, is the beautiful London-educated daughter of a rich Biafran businessman and can almost be pictured due to her beauty which is mentioned several times throughout the book. She Is the lover of Odenigbo and to be quite frank, most of the novel is woven around her challenging life with him and her desire to marry and have children. Ugwu, the poor child of a family that live in a village is given the opportunity to live with Odenigbo and Olanna and quickly becomes a part of their family and a son-figure to them. There are many other different characters that the reader is introduced to, including Richard, the white man who has come to Biafra to write about its history. His role in the novel serves as a reminder of the diversity in Biafra among the rich and the fact that white people were often segregated from the blacks and live separate lives in the city, this becomes apparent when Susan cannot believe that he has come to love a black woman, Kainene (Olanna’s twin)  who for some reason became my favourite character, although I think I only realised she was my favourite character at the end of the book.

The fact that the reader is introduced to so many different characters I think encapsulates the busy setting and the developing cities of wealth and prosperity at the time in Biafra.  Biafra was becoming a wealthy place and a comfortable place to live, drawing the Europeans to migrate there and so the many characters that are hardly drawn upon, such as Susan, only serve as a reminder that Biafra is a thriving and popular place to live. I had never been aware that Biafra had been colonised or let alone that Biafra today is Nigeria which was interesting. Being able to learn about the political structure of Biafra, the society, the wealthy families and its history was not only insightful but eye-opening.

Throughout the book, the novel switches between the late and early 60’s which can make it confusing, but between these different sections, the reader unveils some shocking discoveries and plot twists. I was confused as to how Olanna and Odenigbo had a child although previously they had only longed for one, and how Richard’s novel had disappeared. Yet all is explained in due course and although these sections can be confusing to follow, they make sense as the novel progresses. I think the author has deliberately switched up the structure and the years as between only a few years, the lives of the main characters change immensely and even their characters change too. I think the structure is supposed to challenge the reader and force them to compare the lives of the characters in the early 1960’s to the late 1960’s and consider how contrasting they have become and how disparate. Additionally, there is a sense of nostalgia in placing sections from the start and the end of the decade back to back, making the reader believe that perhaps the author has done so for effect, to help the reader believe that the characters are nostalgic of their lives before and the years before everything changed.

 The imminent arrival of the civil war is abrupt and unexpected. Suddenly the reader is hauled into a life of war, brutality and ugliness. The characters all face their own challenges, yet are forced to leave their homes and flee their city. The Biafrans fight the Nigerians through bitter street fights and trench warfare. During this period, the book seems to speed up and the pace of the novel becomes more frantic and rapid. It’s as if the reader knows something terrible is about to happen… Expertly done, the author’s ability to contrast two time periods makes the old Biafra unrecognisable and a distant memory once the war rages across the country and no one is safe. There is also a contrast in the sexual language as previously it would have been the passionate lovers’ and Ugwu’s exploration of sexuality, but this soon contrasts with the inhumane rapes that take place during the war.

Yet the war is the focal point of the novel and is brought alive through the ever-changing circumstances in Biafra, the terror that the characters feel, the life-changing experiences they witness and the emotional aspect of the period. The author is also exceptionally gifted in involving the reader through the sensory imagery she employs. Previously, the reader associates the coconut scent with Olanna and the reader is inundated with the sensory imagery of soaps and food, until in the war this contrasts with the smells of decay, the stenches of death and rotting corpses, serving a reminder that Biafra has changed irrevocably. However, soon the war seems to disappear and end as quickly as a passing storm and although Biafra loses the war and seems to be changed forever, the characters are all unharmed and safe. Until the very end, when the shocking realisation is discovered that not all the characters are safe and well…

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie creates a thrilling and beautifully written novel that explores life before and after the civil war in Biafra and Nigeria, and how it has shaped the country to this day. Although she herself was not born in the generation to experience the war, both her parents survived and she has still revisited the history her parents lived through. Published in 2006 and the winner of the orange broadband prize for fiction in 2007, this insightful and incredible book is a definite must-read as it brings to life the trauma of those years of war and focuses on the powerful change to the lives of civilians.

Thank you for reading! I hope you liked the review! If you did, please like and share. Also, make sure to comment as I would love to know what you thought.

Thanks once again for reading!

Beth Lucy

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