Half of a Yellow Sun was one of the books chosen for my workplace Once Were Wallabies book club, and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Set in Africa in the 1960s, and particularly about the Nigerian and Biafran civil war in the late ’60s, it was subject material I knew nothing about but told in a very heartfelt manner.
The book is told through the eyes of three major characters:
- Ugwu – an African houseboy who works for Odenigbo, one of the teachers at the Nsukka University and who has strong political convictions towards a free Biafra.
- Olanna – born to rich African parents and the twin sister of Kainene, she is Odenigbo’s girlfriend and, much to her parents’ disgust, moves in with him and joins ‘the revolutionary’.
- Richard – a white Londoner in Africa to research some artwork for a book, meets and falls in love with Kainene, and in turn falls in love with Biafra.
Not all of the characters are actually relatable particularly in the first third of the novel; Olanna just seems shallow and all ‘poor me’, Odenigbo seems like he has his head up his own butt and only likes the sound of his own voice, and Richard just seems like a lost puppy and pretty useless. But it is worth persevering because as the war swings into gear, we actually see some great character development and more believability.
One scene in particular really disturbed me because Ugwu did something I never thought his character would do, and that disappointed me a little. But as I read on, there was some remorse shown and he seemed haunted by what he’d done. Thank god.
After what I felt was a shaky start, the author really took things up a notch, and the chapters about the war were confronting and harrowing, and written beautifully (as much as such a horrific thing can be). There was an interesting structural decision in the midst of the book I’m not sure was necessary, but I’ll talk about that with my fellow book club members at our next meeting. I love books that make me want to find out more about a particular subject, and this book certainly did that, with an excellent mix of the political, historical and personal. It only loses one star because of the characterisation at the start.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 4 out of 5 stars.