“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”
When I was in college I was assigned to read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for my Modern Africa history class. I had never read any of Adichie’s work, but once I was finished with Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie became one of my favorite authors.
Half of a Yellow Sun vividly depicts the horrors of war. I would advise readers to take caution if you are sensitive to descriptions of this kind.
The novel is a historical fiction of before, after, and during Nigeria’s Biafra War (1967-1970). The story follows five characters: Ugwu, a teenage houseboy who works for university professor, Odenigbo; Olanna, the professor’s mistress; and Richard, an Englishman who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister Kainene. Adichie’s beautiful use of storytelling envelopes the readers in the lives and struggles of the characters. The characters experience love, loss, violence, and betrayal throughout the story.
There were many things I loved about this novel. One was how Adichie created characters who showed all aspects of a country at war. She was able to intertwine the lives of characters whose personalities, backgrounds, and experiences differed. Adichie highlighted the comfortable life of Odenigbo, who lived as a university professor, as well as the harsh realities of war refugee camps Olanna and Kainene faced.
She also added themes of colonialism and how it affects the identities of the characters. Adichie’s poignant writing style reveals the stark truth about Nigeria’s history and the struggle its people have faced. The characters believed independence from Britain would solve their problems, but they ultimately faced challenges they did not expect when their freedom was gained. Adichie describes this battle in an emotional manner, which leaves the reader questioning what freedom really means.
Note: For those following our Online Reading Challenge, Chimamada Ngozie Adichie is our Read-Alike author for November 2021. Any of the books that Mary mentions here would be great choices for that challenge!