Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Rating – 4.5 out of 5 stars. An engaging read. A 2013, 37-Day Book Club Choice.
Reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brought me face-to-face with my deficits, my cultural ignorance about the tribulations in the outside world, and my white sheltered assumptions about Africa and her people beyond a stereotype. I knew nothing about Biafra, its civil war struggle to “become an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria in the late 1960’s,” prior to reading the book.
I was twelve or fourteen when this war occurred. Like most of the kids I knew, I grew up under the influence of Africa’s children as images. Every food I refused to eat was an affront to those poor, distended-stomach children. My parent’s message was reinforced by television reels showing Africa’s war torn streets, the starving, dead-eyed children viewed in the “send money” advertisements, where men were filmed picking their way through rubble and debris asking for help. “Just fifty cents a day” would feed a child and her family. I saw, but I didn’t see, couldn’t grasp the experience. Aidichie made me see and feel what her people went through.
What makes Half of a Yellow Sun such a powerful, compelling read—aside from the human interest in the entangled love and life stories of Ugwu, Kainene, Richard, and Olanna—is the clear sense that this story came from the author’s heart. As she stated in the book, “All the members of my family know the story.” The book resonated with her love for her country. With cinematic detail, she word-painted Africa and its people alive. They became you and me. They had hopes and dreams replete with personal struggles, large and small accomplishments, and crippling disappointments.
Adichie made me care about her country, her people, and her characters. She changed me, if not her characters. Her war images—a head separated from a body that keeps moving, long fingernails being blown up—are small evocative ways I experienced the horrors of war. She made me aware of how history repeats itself.
I wouldn’t call the book a literary novel though it comes close with its lyrical form. If it has a fault, it lies, for me, in its structure. The way the story wove back and forth in time felt more like author intrusion, contrived for effect, perhaps a publication demand. I felt it Americanized the novel, made it a book about Africa rather than an African novel. I felt it had been written and then revised for potential film or television with its sly references through out to the drama between Richard and twin sisters, Kainene and Olanna.
It’s a good novel. It’s worth reading twice, if only I could find time. It’s easy to pick up, but is also easy to set down based on the way it’s structured with the implied commercial breaks.
The artwork is crafted from pages in the book. The sentence highlighted is the one I felt most fit the theme in it. We live and die by stories and the ones who keep us alive are family members, family members who know the story and live to tell it.
The image of the man holding the dead child was, to me, mute testimony of the senselessness of war and of what we lose. We forget in our hatreds and in our zeal to win at all costs that the people we despise love and suffer when a family member dies, is killed.
I outlined the black and white photo with watercolor crayons. I wanted it to have an aura, a reminder that blood can be seen oozing against a background of life. We bleed our stories.
I chose black and white for the juxtaposition. Life and death are black and white. You are either or; it’s impossible to be both. The yellow in the top corner, represents the sun on Biafra’s flag, but also how hope can be viewed as an arrival or departure. A dream that can be at the beginning or at its end.
- African Movies to Look out for in 2013 (cinemakenya.wordpress.com)