Lately I’ve been reading books that aren’t all that uplifting. I’m not sure why, but I get sucked into these emotional roller coasters and I can’t put them down. Half of a Yellow Sun is by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian writer. The book takes place during the Nigerian civil war in 1967-1970. Biblioglobal, a blogger set out to read a book from every country in the world, recommended this book to me earlier this year when I announced I wanted to read more novels from all over the world. Half of a Yellow Sun won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. Adichie was shortlisted for the award in 2004 for her first novel, Purple Hibiscus.
When I opened the book to the first page I knew it would be a tough read. I haven’t read too many novels about war that aren’t. Catch -22 is a funny war novel, but it still has moments of sadness. However, Adichie tricked me. The first hundred pages or so weren’t depressing at all. In fact I found them enchanting. The novel chronicles the lives of twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, and Ugwu, a young houseboy for Odenigbo, a university professor. During these pages, the author introduces the characters and how they live their lives. Olanna is a beautiful young woman and is Odenigbo’s lover. Kainene is less attractive but has a fiery personality. She starts a relationship with Richard, an Englishman who is attempting to write a book. Ugwu is a sweet boy who wants to impress his master so he can receive an education. All of them have hopes, desires, and dreams.
I started to wonder if I misjudged the book. Maybe I wouldn’t need a box of Kleenex next to me. Then the war started. Before reading this novel, I wasn’t all that familiar with Nigerian history. The Nigerian-Biafran War started in July 1967 and didn’t end until January 1970. Political and ethnic struggles were the root cause of the war. The Igbo attempted to secede from Nigeria and formed a new state, the Republic of Biafra. Nigeria couldn’t squash the rebellion quickly and resorted to cutting off all aid to Biafra, leading to starvation and disease. Thousands died. Thousands more suffered. The war ended over forty years ago, but the tensions leading up to the war have not been resolved completely. Adichie has stated that’s why she wrote this novel, to highlight the war and the Igbo people.
Once the war started, I knew that tone of the novel would change drastically. Olanna, Kainene, and Ugwu are part of the newly founded Biafra. As I mentioned above the measures taken by the Nigerians were drastic and far reaching. Not only are there scenes of ethnic cleansing that are horrifying, just reading about how they survived day to day is difficult. That isn’t to say that the novel isn’t good. It’s quite good actually. The author sucked me into their lives. Frantically I devoured the pages to see what would happen to them. Who would survive? Who wouldn’t?
This novel is a fantastic character study of people living during dramatic events. I won’t lie, it’s an emotional book to read. I didn’t reach for the Kleenex too often, but there were moments. Mostly this novel made me angry. How people can treat others with such contempt is beyond me. The horrors of war affect all of them, and not many on either side are completely innocent.
Has anyone read this novel or her first novel, Purple Hibiscus? What are your thoughts? Now I’m reading All Quiet on the Western Front. Another war novel. I may need therapy.
From this Igbo Nigerian… I’m glad you read that book. It is one of my faves and has a treasured place in my very disorganized library… all the best in your quest.. 🙂
Thanks for the well wishes. I can see why this novel has a special place in your library. It’s wonderful. Just wonderful. Do you recommend any other Nigerian writers?
There’s Helen Oyeyemi… I haven’t read any of her books yet but I’ve heard good things….
Thanks. I’ll see if the library has any of her books.
We were just talking about Catch-22 at work.., ironic. This book sounds captivating! Love the review. And I probably would have to purchase a box of kleenex by the sounds of it 🙂
If you read it, expect tears. No way around that.
I wept so often and and so violently when I read Elie Wiesel’s book Night, that I vowed never again to put myself through that. It’s especially crushing to read what it does to children and their developing psyches. Of course, if we don’t, how will we know and decide to settle disputes some other way?
I have read Night a few times (had to for school) and boy is it a tough read. A tough, tough read. But an important one.
I have all three of her books on my piles but have only managed to read the short story this novel is based on. You can read it online. It’s called Half of a Yellow Sun and published by Zoetrope All Story.
This was an ugly war. Most wars are but civil wars are among the most vicious. Before reading this story I didn’t know too much about it.
I watched her on YouTube in interviews. Very interesting. She has a lot to say about perceptions. How biased people are because she is African. Unfortunately I didn’t like the short story, or rather the way it was written or I would have read the books by now. This one almost made it on the Lit and War Readalong List.
All Quiet on the Western Front was the book that triggered my interest in Literature and War.
I should watch the YouTube videos. That’s unfortunate that this one didn’t make the cut since I actually read it 😉 Civil wars, more often than not, are bloody and brutal. So many hatreds unleashed and sanctioned by governments. Such a horrible event.
It’s hard to write this, but I love All Quiet–I know that sounds weird. I have studied wars most of my adult life, but it wasn’t until I read this novel did I truly understand how horrible it is for the average soldier. If people only read one war novel, I recommend All Quiet.
I totally agree with you. That and Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit.
I haven’t read that one. I did pick up The heat of the night today. I’m looking forward to it and hopefully I’ll finish it in time
It will be interesting to compare notes as we are reading The Heat of the Day. 🙂
I didn’t know it was on the 1001 list. For some reason I thought it was a recent book–not sure why I thought that.
You know I was teasing, right but it was just so funny. I thought hmm…what is she reading I must look that up and then I realized the Céline title sneaked into the Bowen. 🙂
Ha 🙂 I didn’t know.
The first section of the book just sucks you in doesn’t it? All these interesting people and it seems safe to fall in love with them. Then…
I thought Purple Hibiscus was very good too, but not as strong as Half of a Yellow Sun. It felt less nuanced, with a clear line between the good people and the bad people. I’m looking forward to Adichie’s new novel coming out this spring!
That’s interesting that Purple Hibiscus has a clear line between good and bad. This one doesn’t. Not all of the characters are evil, but not many are pure. I’m drawn to flawed characters. I didn’t know she has a new one coming out. How exciting! Thanks for the tip and for recommending this one!
One of the things I really liked about Half of a Yellow Sun was how many of the characters were both very likable and had serious flaws. In Purple Hibiscus, the bad character is similarly nuanced, but the good characters were more straightforward.
I really need to read Purple now so I can compare. All of the copies are currently checked out of the library.
Is that quite in the US enthusiastic sense? Or the more restrained British one?
LOL…going with the American use of the word. But I do use it both ways now. even I get confused.
I’ve not been one to read stories like that, maybe I’ll be brave and check it out. Thanks for sharing.
It’s good, but I understand that not everyone will like the subject matter.
I only read this one, and I’m afraid I won’t try others. her writing is very good, but those are tough books emotionally, though I thought this one was bearable, as I explain in my review: http://wordsandpeace.com/2012/02/22/review-7-2012-half-of-a-yellow-sun/
From what I hear, this is the best novel out of the two. I’m glad I discovered this book and author. Good luck with your 52 countries this year!
I love this novel. I haven’t read her other works yet, but I’m working on it! I agree with other commenters about watching videos and interviews. If you’re short on time, take a look at her TED talk “The Dangers of a Single Story”. It’s under 20 minutes like most TED talks. Her ideas on perception are prevalent throughout her work. Some of her experiences she talks about are quite comical and others a very moving. Makes you think a lot about the society you were raised in.
Oh thanks so much for the suggestion. I haven’t seen the TED talks, but I’m hoping I can find it online. I would love to learn more about her and how she writes. One of my favorite things is to listen or read about writers and their craft. Thanks!
You could read “God Of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy. It is set in Kerala in India. The style is poetic.
Thanks for the suggestion. I know this is on my list and I’ll bump it up on my TBR! I’ve heard that her writing is beautiful.
I can’t read war novels, I get too sad. Once I read a book “Reading Lolita in Teheran” by Azar Nafisi, it’s about how women ara treated in those parts of the world and I remember being mad for a long time. The book still has the mark where I stopped reading, I couldn’t take it.
I have read the Nafisi book and yes, it’s difficult to read as well. These types of books really make me realize how fortunate I am.
We are fortunate because we fight for our rights.
True and we can fight for our rights.
I’m half Igbo so have read and admired Ms Adichie’s Hibiscus and Sun but they are tough books, well done you and thank you.
I would like to read her other works. Even though they are tough reads, I enjoyed her writing style and I learned a lot. I hear she has a new book coming out this spring.
Yes her new is called the Americanah. She is the best writer in my opinion after Chunia Achebe. I love all her books. Purple hibiscus is also a good book.
I haven’t read Chunia Achebe yet, but I want to.
I have read this one. It’s a very difficult book to read and one that I’m not quite sure even now, how I really feel about. I suppose reading something like this just makes you feel so emotional but also a bit powerless.
Have you read A Thousand Splendid Suns?
Is that by the author who wrote The Kite Runner? I read that one, but not A Thousand yet. I have a copy of it and I plan on reading it. But the Kite Runner was good, but boy did it take it out of me. I need to find some time when I can surround myself with happy so I don’t get super depressed.
I must admit that I think a Thousand Splendid Suns is an excellent novel. Really moving and for me personally the superior of the two – although Kite Runner seems to have the greater fame. I think you will be gripped if you read it – it’s totally compelling, and incredibly moving of course.
Well that’s a darn good recommendation. bumping it up my TBR!
Well, normally, I feel worried when I recommend a book and somebody says they’re going to read it but with this one I don’t have that feeling at all.
It’s that good. I totally believe you and you just bumped it up a few more notches on the TBR.
if you’re going to keep on with the war books, i would recommend the following: A Rumor of War, Dispatches, The Things They Carried, We were Soldiers Once and Young-but especially the first two.
Wow! Thanks for the suggestions!
when i saw the AP American history text my kids were reading on the Vietnam War, I “suggested” they read the first two. They did and it was interesting to see what it brought to both of them and what they carried from those books in to their adult lives.
I think reading novels is a great way to learn about history. I had a history professor in college who encouraged me to read many novels (I had to read non-fiction as well) and I think I benefited greatly from his guidance. He was my favorite teacher.
Just letting you know that I recently listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk and I knew who she was from this post. Her speech was so inspiring to me I immediately went and bought 2 of her books. I’m reading Purple Hibiscus now and can’t wait to start Half of a Yellow Sun! Thank you for always covering such great novels – I wouldn’t have known to look out for her if it wasn’t for you!
I need to read Purple Hibiscus. Are you enjoying it? I loved her Half of a Yellow Sun. And I need to watch her TED talk. Many have recommended it.
I finished Purple Hibiscus and really enjoyed it. I’m in the middle of Yellow Sun now, but so far I think I prefer Purple Hibiscus just because I like and could relate more to the narrative perspective of a young girl. I’ve had to put Yellow Sun aside for now though because I’m at the beach and it is NOT a beach read!
Yellow Sun is an intense read. I recently read Sense and Sensibility on a beach. That’s a little easier going on the beach.
I switched to a book I bought by Balzac! 🙂
I haven’t read Balzac. Do you have a suggestion for me?
Oh yes! Le père goriot! It’s his most famous and the first one I read.
Will look for it, thanks. Are you still writing on your blog?
No, that was just for my stay in France, and I’m no longer there unfortunately. But I’d love to blog again, I’m just waiting for the right opportunity 🙂
Let me know when the opportunity knocks so I can follow.
Thank you, how kind 🙂
It’s always fun reading other blogs. I love the communication and how much I learn and the friends I make.