When i picked up this book, it was hard to believe that African writing could return to the heights that Wole Sonyika, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Naguib Mahfouz and John Coetzee had done in the past. The book is a refreshing taste of what African writing can mature to and has always had as over world literature. And the author receives a strong cosign from one of the people she looks upto, Achebe. And this is what he had to say abut her, “She is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient story tellers.” It can not get better than that.
And Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does exactly that with her second book, Half of a Yellow Sun. The book is her take on the The Biafra war that took place in the late 1960s specifically between 6th July 1967 to 15th January 1970.
It was brought about by some of the eastern states of Nigeria wanting to secede and form the Republic of Biafra. She uses three people mainly to bring about the effects of the war; Olanna, Richard and Ugwu. All three of them are connected in that Richard is Olanna’s brother-in-law who is “married” to Olanna’s twin sister Kainene and Ugwu is Olanna’s house boy who also serves as Richard’s guide. Richard is an Englishman who wants to learn more about Africa and especially the cultures of the local people while he wants to write a book. The book never matures partly because of an identity crisis, Kainene’s jealousy and the war. He is not sure what he is going to write about because at first he wants to write a book on the culture using the roped pots as a case study but after the war starts, he wants to write a book on the effects of war. His manuscripts get destroyed twice; the first time after Kainene learns that he had slept with Olanna and the second after the war spreads to the town of Nsukka and it had to be buried by Harrison his houseboy.
Kainene may be seen as the evil twin at the start of the book but we are really never sure as to who is more evil between Olanna and Kainene especially after Olanna seduces Richard and sleeps with him after she is estarnged from her husband, Odenigbo. At the very end of it all, Kainene comes across as the savior of the people when she helps in running the camp where the rest of the family stays. Olanna is the stronger of the two and a kind-hearted person when the book starts off. They both come from a wealthy Lagos family though Olanna is never the typical rich person; kind to the servants and willing to help out when it is needed. She leaves to go and marry Odenigbo an intellectual at the university campus in Nsukka. Though her parents have never understood why she made that decision but Kainene also disappoints them by going to cohabit with Richard.
Ugwu comes to be Odenigbo’s house boy but soon comes to be part of the family since Olanna and Odenigbo only have one child known throughout as Baby. He is their support in terms of emotional distress and in times of calamity. The best example of their attachment to him is when he is captured to be enscripted by the army that is fighting for the secession of Biafra. Luckily, Olanna comes to his rescue pretty fast though he is unlucky for the second time. He is a naive young man who lusts after the pretty young things who work as housegirls in the neighbouring houses. His eye-opener comes in when he finds out that the girl he wanted to marry in the village was bethrothed to an old man. But his experience when he rapes the young girl at the bar when he is a conscripted soldier is what shakes and haunts him to the core.
The book is meant to captivate the reader and it never fails to do that with the powerful style of writing that has been developed meant to draw the reader in with the use of graphic words and emotions splayed throughout the book. Although some scenes may feel rushed, like when Olanna is estranged from Odenigbo and she sleeps with Richard, it is just enough to have you holding on to the edges of the book and not putting it down.
About the author
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Abba but grew up in the university town of Nsukka where she attended both her primary and high school education before briefly studying Medicine and Pharmacy in university. She later changed that to Communication and Political Science after moving to the United States. She also holds two Masters degrees, one in Creative Writing and another one in African Studies from the John Hopkins University and Yale University respectively. Half of a Yellow Sun was her second book after Purple Hibiscus. Both books have won various international awards including the Commonwealth Writers’ Award. Her short stories anthology, The Thing Around Your Neck, was published in 2009.