an artful readers club blog

Half of a Yellow Sun Book Review


Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Anchor Books
Copyright: 2006
ISBN: 978-4000-9520-9
Historical fiction
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.


31 Responses to “Half of a Yellow Sun Book Review”

  1. Leialoha

    A wonderful and thoughtful review…the art is so expressive especially with the use of black/white & highlighted text…’all the members in my family know the story’…brilliant! Thank you.

  2. shirley

    Your review really does evoke some memories for me. I had a friend who lived through those times of the 60’s and had stories to tell. I had not heard of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ but will certainly be adding it to my reading list. It is always good to be reminded what others have had to live through but the sad part is that men do not seem to learn from history. Your artwork really is amazing with the man holding a dead child summing up the futility of war. Thanks for introducing me to a new book and great review.

  3. San @ Made in Hem

    Okay, goosebumps all over… Your Art piece is true Art with a meaning!
    I’m too young to grasp what this war was about but in general I don’t understand war.
    I talk in my children’s school about the effects of bullying and how we should be kind to each other and respect our differences and learn from it. We are all unique but in the end just the same, we all want to be happy isn’t it?

  4. Gina

    Stunning review, and absolutely shudder making art work! And your line “we bleed our stories”…very moving 😀 XXX

  5. Sarah

    your art work is so moving, wonderful and horrific all at once. and thank you for your well written review, it sounds like a fascinating book

  6. darcy

    ohh wow, such a compelling review. Your own style of writing is beautiful, you make me want to read this book. It sounds so thought provoking, beautiful and sad all at once.

  7. crafty dawn

    Based on your review I don’t think this is a book for me however it’s because it’s it’s such a wonderful well written review Thank you for that and the art work is wonderful Dxx

  8. Janet Van Rossen

    A wonderful review. A book that can open our eyes, explain and inform is a rare thing. Beautifully moving artwork.

  9. Jenny Pearson

    Wonderful book review. Your inspired artwork is so moving and beautiful.
    Jen x

  10. Jenny

    Outstanding and compelling review Michelle… such strength in your words… and your artwork is amazing… soulful and beautiful….

    Jenny ♥

  11. Jez Eden

    I remember the terrible Biafra war and the way it brought Africa to the front of people’s consciousness. Just your mention of it brought back the very first television image I saw, back in 1969 or perhaps 1970, can’t remember the date, but I can’t forget the events.
    Having been to ‘the other parts’ of Nigeria a few times on business I found it such a humbling experience, some everyday events so shocking to me, but taken for granted, and yet all the people I met to kind and wonderful.
    Your review brought it all back to me. A wonderful review, and what a shame that the publishers seem to have ‘normalised’ the structure of the book to suit the market they foresaw.
    And such a heart-rending piece of artwork. It makes me think of the work of Kathe Kollwitz.
    I don’t think I could cope with the book nowadays, but I would have read it once inspired by your review.
    Sorry this is so long – shows how much your review has affected me.

  12. Virginia

    This sounds like a really interesting book, really pushing our beliefs from that period of time,, you artwork is stunning! Thank you for such a great review – so heartfelt and honest!

  13. abby lazar

    Wonderful review and superb art…this is a must read for me! I visit Africa every year…have two adopted tribal families in southern Ethiopia with whom I visit…have been doing this for 25 years. It’s my favorite place on earth (other than home!!) Thanks for the heads up!

  14. Catherine

    What fantastic art. It captures so much so well!
    Whilst reading your review I felt the book speaking to me … So going to add it to my growing list of must reads!
    Thank you

  15. Tracey Fletcher King

    Great review and love the artwork you created to go with it… it really reflects the feel of the book as you have described it… have made a note of the book and looking forward to getting hold of it…xx

  16. Gina Shillitani

    Thank you for your expressive review, it is very moving and so is your artwork. It sounds like such a sad story.

  17. Carmen (whoopidoo) (@craftywhoopidoo)

    Just… wow. You see things I don’t think I would even have noticed and that makes me sad at myself. Would I have seen the advert breaks? I don’t know. I do know I wasn’t alive when all this happened but I do find those adverts and indeed the upcoming Comic Relief (are you in the UK – do you know what that is?) very hard to watch and am bought to tears at times. It is like you say – the World just doesn’t learn.

    Your artwork is so powerful, so beautiful and at the same time so brutal – as it should be I think.

  18. Alison xx

    Wow, that sounds like an amazing book. I agree that as children, we don’t know enough about what is happening in the world and it does take age to appreciate our lives. Love your artwork. A xx


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