Book info

Half Of A Yellow Sun (2006)

Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)
Rating
4.23 of 5 Votes: 3
ISBN
1400044162 (ISBN13: 9781400044160)
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English
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knopf
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Half Of A Yellow Sun (2006)
Half Of A Yellow Sun (2006)

About book: This is the powerful true story of the tragic civil war in Nigeria between 1967 and 1970, and the creation and defeat of Biafra. Nigeria itself is a fairly modern creation, like most African countries, its borders formed by its colonisers. And like Rwanda, differences between tribes were encouraged and fostered by the colonisers until they reached a peak of hate and murder. I didn't know this about Nigeria. I knew, from reading Say You’re One of Them and Little Bee that persecution and strife erupted because of oil, and also that the northern tribes - the Hausa - are Muslim and the southern, Christian. I learned a great deal more from this book, which is a fictional account of the Nigerian civil war and the attempt of the southern tribes, the Igbo in particular, to create a nation of their own: Biafra. This is the Biafran flag, with the half of a yellow sun in the middle. The story itself is interesting in that it's told from mostly a middle-class perspective, a well educated middle class, with characters from an upper class background and a peasant one also present, creating a balanced perspective of events, desires and motivations that give the story a well-rounded feel.Three characters narrate the events in turn: Ugwu, a village boy given the job of houseboy to a mathematics professor at Nsukka Univeristy, Odenigbo; Olanna, daughter to a wealthy couple who lives with Odenigbo; and Richard, a white Englishman who comes to Nigeria because he wants to be a writer and the story of the roped pots unearthed in the country have inspired him. These three characters draw in and link several others: Olanna's twin sister, Kainene, a businesswoman, becomes Richard's girlfriend. Odenigbo regularly has at his house several academics, the leaders of the coming nationalisation and creation of Biafra. And Ugwu connects us to the poorer classes, being a servant and from them himself, he interacts with them still. If there is any one character who really carries this story, it is Ugwu.Divided into four parts, two before the civil war and two during, it is told slightly out-of-order, with an interesting gap in understanding created by skipping ahead a few years, then coming back and filling in the gaps. It allows us to really understand these people, seeing their hopes and lives and dreams juxtaposed against the war, the killings, the fear, the starvation and deprivation and diseases that flourished in what had been a relatively clean, healthy and safe land. Everything becomes so present when you see before and during side by side like this. At the time of reading I wasn't sure but that I would have preferred a seamless chronological telling, to keep the momentum going, but once I finished it I found that, after all, it was more powerful the way it was told, the structure of it.What was slightly less pleasing to me was the narrative style. It's that third-person style that tells us what we need to know and nothing more, that doesn't let us figure things out for ourselves, understand these people in our own way. It's a style that distances me, that almost alienates me. I'll pick a random passage as an example:Richard envisaged somebody young and alert like their houseboy, Ugwu, but Harrison turned out to be a small stooped stick of a man, middle-aged, wearing an oversize white shirt that stopped below his knees. He bowed extravagantly at the beginning of each conversation. He told Richard with unconcealed pride that he had formerly worked for the Irish priest Father Bernard and the American professor Land. "I am making very good beet salad," he said that first day, and later Richad realized that he was proud not only of his salad but also of cooking with beets, which he had to buy in the "specialty vegetable" stall because most Nigerians did not eat them. (p.91)Things are also encapsulated for us, neatly summed up and packaged with time flowing on until a detail or a scene is deemed important enough to share.He sat down and stared at the cover of The Pickwick Papers. There was a serene calm in the backyard, in the gentle wave of the mango tree and the winelike scent of ripening cashews. It belied what he saw around him. Fewer and fewer guests visited now, and in the evenings the campus streets were ghostly, covered by the pearly light of silence and emptiness. Eastern Shop had closed. Chinyere's mistress was only one of many families on campus who were leaving ... But Olanna and Master had not packed a single thing. They said that war would not come and that people were simply panicking. (p.220)It's not that there isn't some lovely writing here, in the descriptions and details, and Adichie has focused on bringing Nigeria and the culture and people to life for us, from a non-white perspective, but perhaps because of that, because of a consciousness of her audience, she holds our hand a tad too tightly, joins the dots a bit too often. I don't like being put in the position of a passive reader. There were times when something wasn't pointed out, merely implied or hinted at, and those were refreshing times. Just not frequent enough.What is admirable about this book is its humanisation of a people too often scraped into a single clump and then dismissed - the character of Susan, another white pom, speaks the voice of the coloniser at large: arrogant, dismissive, superior, smug:"They have a marvelous energy, really, but very little sense of hygiene, I'm afraid." She told him the Hausa in the North were a dignified lot, the Igbo were surly and money-loving, and the Yoruba were rather jolly even if they were first-rate lickspittles. On Saturday evenings, when she pointed at the crowds of brightly dressed people dancing in front of lit-up canopies on the streets, she said, "There you go. The Yoruba get into huge debt just to throw these parties." (p.69)One of my favourite books with an African setting (Kenya), is John le Carre's The Constant Gardener (also a terrific film) - the scenes here where the wealthy Nigerians mix with the white diplomats and their wives, are similar in their political subtleties. Throughout the novel is the undercurrent feeling, that the African is a beast, forever uncivilised, good for hard labour but little else. This is the 60s, and I don't know that anything's really changed. It doesn't help that the British, and other Europeans, have a long history of doing this not just to other peoples but their own people as well (a belief system they brought with them and established in other countries as well). They have a pervading sense of class consciousness - and when you mix in Christianity and missionaries it only gets worse. The title Richard comes up with for a book he never writes, inspired by something one of the Kainene's friends, Madu, says, is apt and fitting for Africa, yesterday, today and tomorrow: "The world was silent while we died". There are scary similarities between what happened in Nigeria and Rwanda in the 90s, and what's happening today in places like the Sudan. Most of the time, we created these problems, or encouraged them. But we take no responsibility for them.Books like Half of a Yellow Sun are instrumental in giving a voice to the dead and dying of Africa, to histories that we are often ignorant of. Black people killing black people? It's like that unspoken thought people have when hearing of fresh tragedy in China: oh well, there're too many people in China already, they can afford to lose a few million. No one will say it aloud, but it hovers there like a black cloud of superiority all the same (in the same way as westerners always looking at China and India as the real problem when it comes to climate change). This is such a human story, bringing to life the different layers of Nigerian society, giving them back ownership of their African identity and heritage even while telling the story of it being taken from them. Even though I did not particularly like how it was told, it is still most definitely a story that needs telling, and demands hearing.

"The world was silent when we died."This casual statement he once heard is used as the title of a book written by one of the characters in this novel, in which Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie chronicles the birth, short and tortured life and death of the State of Biafra: born on the 30th of May, 1967 from Nigeria and forcefully annexed back by the parent state, after a bitter war in which a million died, in January 1970.Most of us, I suspect, do not know about this short-lived country. Even Wikipedia calls the war between Biafra and Nigeria a "civil war", thus denying legitimacy to the erstwhile nation: even though a number of countries recognised it. Since history is always written by the victors, the voice of the losers are often submerged in the general background noise.I listened to a talk by the author - a very impressive one - about the danger of the "single story": the one that has been foisted on the world by the erstwhile colonial powers and called "history". These are opinions which are taught as facts, which tend to show an uncivilised "third world", and the West's "civilising" influence. This is so much bovine excrement. The colonial powers went into Asia and Africa to loot, and when the loot was finished, exited leaving miserable poverty and the flames of mutual hatred in the minds of people. This is the story which is not told.Ms. Adichie also warns us about the "secondary story" in the speech; that is, starting the story from the second chapter, ignoring the first. Examples are plentiful - Palestinians attacking the peaceful state of Israel, without mentioning the death and displacement of thousand of Palestinians to create the said country; mutual hatred between India and Pakistan, without mentioning the hatred fomented by the British which resulted in the partition; endemic poverty and tribal violence in Africa, without mentioning the years of occupation by the West which created them. Up till recently, world history was made up of these secondary stories, which served as the "one story" which the former colonial powers wanted to propagate.It is heartening to note that things are changing. People like Chimamanda are using the most powerful medium available to humans since the dawn of civilisation to bring about that change: the medium of the narrative. And it is here that the defeated people have an immense power which cannot be suppressed.The world was silent when many died. But now it will have to listen, as the dead tell their story from beyond the grave.---------------------------------------------------As the British colonists left Nigeria, they did what they were expert at doing: drawing artificial national boundaries and inciting hatred in the minds of the people they ruled. So after a period of uneasy calm, Nigeria erupted in riots. The powerful Hausa people massacred the Igbo minority, whom they considered to be enjoying more benefits than was due them (see anything familiar here?), and the Igbo declared independence from Nigeria, and the state of Biafra was born. However, Nigeria could not let go of the oil-rich south: so war was declared. In a bitter battle which lasted two and a half years which left a million dead and the country devastated, Biafra was subjugated and wiped off the map.Ms. Adichie passes the harsh white light of history through the prism of individual experience to create overlapping rainbows of narratives. In this, her style is similar to that of Paul Scott; however, whereas Scott’s narrative is an Indian tapestry where one has to search among the intricate coloured strands to see a pattern (or multiple conflicting patterns), Chimamanda’s work has all the blunt beauty of African art: the uncomplicated lines and the simple patterns which makes the medium all but transparent so that the narrator is talking directly to the listener. Scenes of utter despair and brutality are described very matter-of-factly, in almost Hemingway-esque prose. We are all sitting around a metaphorical campfire, listening to the author telling her story in uncomplicated prose.But it does not mean that there are no nuances. The name, Half of a Yellow Sun, itself signifies separation, a paring; the fact that it is a reference to the Biafran flag makes it all the more significant. One of the three main characters through whose viewpoints we experience the tale, Olanna, is one of set of fraternal twins. Like twins in a fairy tale, the sisters are of diametrically opposite natures - Olanna is beautiful, revolutionary and optimistic; while her sister Kainene is plain, cynical and pessimistic. Of course, things are not so simple as they seem, and the sisters’ characters unfurl as the story progresses: showing us more and more layers, as the siblings move through their lives, facing love, hatred, betrayal, separation and loss against a nation that is slowly coming apart at the seams.Another character through whose eyes we see the tragedy of Biafra is Richard Churchill, Kainene’s lover – an Englishman who has “gone native”. Richard is interested in Igbo pottery, and is ostensibly researching it. He is also trying to write a book which never seems to take shape – like character from a Kafka story, Richard plods on, reaching nowhere.But for me, the character who holds the novel together is Ugwu, houseboy of Odenigbo, Olanna’s boyfriend. As we move across the Nigeria of the early sixties to the Biafra of the late sixties and then again, back to a unified Nigeria in 1970, Ugwu grows from child to man – in more ways than one. In the end, he becomes Richard’s spiritual heir of sorts, telling the story of the Igbo people of Nigeria, which Richard could never accomplish.The story goes on.
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Reviews
Cheryl
Narrated by three very different people, this is a tragic and heartfelt story of war, love, and post-colonialism, set during the time of the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-70. There is Olanna, the daughter of a diplomat and a professor who has just left Lagos to live in the smaller city of Nsukka with Odenigbo, the revolutionary and professor she has fallen in love with. Ugwu is their houseboy who has moved from the village to live and work with them. Richard, the European expatriate and writer, is in love with Olanna's sister, Kainene (my favorite character). The parallel narration structure makes for a great read because you get the point of view from these three characters who were very different, yet their narration doesn't interrupt, but help advance the bigger story. In Part I, you're acquainted with the characters, their stories, and their lives. Part II is about the coup that led to the war. Part III is at the onset of war. In Part IV, you get to live the war with these characters, see how it transformed their lives.Adichie didn't mince words in her prose. It is direct and captivating, poetic in some places. The story is told with an understanding of war and the necessity of giving truthful accounts of tragedies. There were parts that were difficult to read, parts that carried the weight of emotional truth. Indeed, this is a fictional account that is a Nigeria-Biafra war classic. The characters are honest, their experiences brutal, their stories resonate, and the severity of their circumstances and the way in which they approach it is a graceful rendition of war victims. It was easy to empathize with all of them. This was an emotional read for me. I needed to part ways with the book, yet I didn't want to be done reading it, so I savored each word. Apparently it was also an emotional "write" for the author, who wrote about her writing experience: "I struggled to maintain many fragile balances. I cried often, was frequently crippled with doubt and anxiety, often wondered whether to stop or to scale back. But there were also moments of extravagant joy when I recognized, in a character or moment or scene, that quality of emotional truth."I'm glad she chose not to scale back. Some stories need to be revealed to the world and stamped into history.
Jess Wisloski
Okay, so if I got to pick how I learn my world history of civilized cultures, I would pick to have this author, or a fair equivalent, write this kind of heartfelt bio of the defining struggles in their generation. I bought this because I had heard this woman interviewed months before when it came out in hardcover. The interview intrigued me - the author spoke about how she was able to write from the perspective of a young boy (I think he is 12 when we start). The book is really about the short-lived Igbo revolt in Nigeria after British-backed state soldiers began brutal genocide of even the wealthiest Igbo families. Despite the disbelief academics had that the Western countries would ignore them, indeed full years of annex went by and no help came. Even well-meaning journalists helplessly became tangled in the mess, and those shuttled off to what swiftly-disappearing safe towns were left, eventually were touched by the genocide, or in many cases, kidnapped, robbed, or raped. I make it sound like a downer, but it's not. On the contrary, we see all that plays out through the hopeful eyes of a young, impoverished boy who got a lucky break; his idealist master who teaches at University and helped lead the revolts on paper; the stunning, soft and Igbo mistress who watches as her high-ranking family's world is shattered, and a white, British novelist, who struggles to stay with his own love despite the chasms that divide them. God, this was a great book. Pick it up. I gave it to my mom for book club reading. Well well worth the buy.
Ahmed
إذا فهذه إفريقيا (التى ننتمي إليها إسما فقط) , هى إفريقيا التى نادراً ما تقابلها أو تشاهدها أو حتى تسمع عنها .إفريقيا الساحرة , حقا إنها لساحرة , فهى المجتمع الغامض , الجامع لشتى الحضارات والثقافات والثروات الغنية فى خليط ممتع, ولسؤال الأهم , هل يستطيع عمل أدبى ما فى تقديم ذلك السحر ؟ هذا ما ستقابله فى هذا العمل الفريد.ببساطة : نيجيريا الستينات , بطائفيتها القبيحة المدمرة السافكة للدماء . رواية واقعية (حقيقية) ليس فقط الانتماء لفن الواقعية كنوع روائى ما , بل هى الواقعية الحية التى تضعك فى قلب الحدث , الرواية تحكى المواقف وتصف الأشخاص والأحداث , لا تُقدم لك الرواية حكم الحياة , بل تقدم لك الحياة نفسها لتستخلص أنت موعظتها . رواية بسيطة .ببساطة مطلقة : من خلال شخصيات تنتمى لمختلف الاتجاهات والتيارات والخلفيات الثقافية المختلفة(والحيوات) الغريبة عن بعضها , من خلال تلك الشخصيات قدمت لك الكاتبة مجتمع بأكمله تضافرت الظروف الداخلية منه والخارجية عنها , والتى اضطرته , تضافرت كل تلك العوامل فى تشكيله , تشكيل غريب ومخالف للناموس الطبيعى فى تشكيل المجتمعات , مما أدى إلى النتيجة المحتومة والطبيعبة وهى أن يسفك دماء بعضه.أعتقد من الظلم أن نركز الضوء على شخصية معينة فى العمل , لأنها كلها شخصيات محورية ساهمت فى تشكيل العمل , عن من نتحدث : عن الأستاذ الجامعي الثورى صاحب حس الفقر الملازم له فدفعه إلى الاهتمام بقضاياهم , أم عن الأختين (التوأم) وكل واحدة منها مختلفة عن أختها اختلاف شاسع , أم عن الصبى (الخادم) , أم عن (ريتشارد) ذلك الإنجليزى التائه الحالم بعمل عن تلك الأرض التى سحرته , أم عن الأشخاص المكونة للأحداث النيجيرية السياسية من جنرالات الجيش ورجال السياسة ورجال الأعمال , وكلهم برعت الكاتبة فى تصوير شخصياتهم بطريقة متمكنة مبدعة.وان كانت بعض الأحداث معبرة أكبر التعبير : كعجز الأوروبى (الجنسى) أمام جميلته الإفريقية التى استاطعت السيطرة الكاملة عليه , أم عن عشق الخادم الصغير (الخفى ) وما إلى ذلك من الأحداث ذات الدلالة الكبيرة.برعت الكاتبة فى تصوير المجاذر الطائفية بكل مهارة , برعت فى تقديم تلك الاضطرابات العِرقية البغيضة , براعة صادقة صادمة .من حيث اللغة : أعتقد أن الترجمة جيدة رغم بعض الهفوات البسيطة فى ثنايا العمل .التطور فى الأحداث سلس جدا ومتسلسل بصورة منطقية جيدة.فى المجمل : عمل مميز وممتاز وممتع .
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