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Half of a Yellow Sun [Paperback]

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 4 2007
With her award-winning debut novel, Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was heralded by the Washington Post Book World as the “21st century daughter” of Chinua Achebe. Now, in her masterly, haunting new novel, she recreates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria during the 1960s.

With the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Adichie weaves together the lives of five characters caught up in the extraordinary tumult of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Ugwu is houseboy to Odenigbo, a university professor who sends him to school, and in whose living room Ugwu hears voices full of revolutionary zeal. Odenigbo’s beautiful mistress, Olanna, a sociology teacher, is running away from her parents’ world of wealth and excess; Kainene, her urbane twin, is taking over their father’s business; and Kainene’s English lover, Richard, forms a bridge between their two worlds. As we follow these intertwined lives through a military coup, the Biafran secession and the subsequent war, Adichie brilliantly evokes the promise, and intimately, the devastating disappointments that marked this time and place.
Epic, ambitious and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a more powerful, dramatic and intensely emotional picture of modern Africa than any we have had before.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed. That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner from Nigerian novelist Adichie (Purple Hibiscus). Adichie tells her profoundly gripping story primarily through the eyes and lives of Ugwu, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into the raggedy Biafran army, and twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, who are from a wealthy and well-connected family. Tumultuous politics power the plot, and several sections are harrowing, particularly passages depicting the savage butchering of Olanna and Kainene's relatives. But this dramatic, intelligent epic has its lush and sultry side as well: rebellious Olanna is the mistress of Odenigbo, a university professor brimming with anticolonial zeal; business-minded Kainene takes as her lover fair-haired, blue-eyed Richard, a British expatriate come to Nigeria to write a book about Igbo-Ukwu art—and whose relationship with Kainene nearly ruptures when he spends one drunken night with Olanna. This is a transcendent novel of many descriptive triumphs, most notably its depiction of the impact of war's brutalities on peasants and intellectuals alike. It's a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing. (Sept. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Adichie surpasses her award-winning debut, Purple Hibiscus (2003), with a magnificent novel in which the dreams and tragedies of 1960s Nigeria are filtered through the minds and experiences of stupendously compelling characters. From page 1, an unbreakable bond is forged between the reader and Ugwu, a bright and kind young teen who has left his barebones village to serve as houseboy to Odenigbo, a robust and radical professor full of hope for newly independent Nigeria in spite of ingrained ethnic divides and colonialism's deleterious aftereffects. Ugwu becomes devoted to Odenigbo's beautiful and cultured lover, Olanna, as Odenigbo's treacherous mother plots against her, and her estranged twin sister, tough and sardonic Kainene, takes up with a gentle Englishman. The momentous psychological and ethical pressures Adichie engineers could support an engrossing novel in their own right, but her great subject is Nigeria's horrific civil war, specifically the fate of Biafra, the doomed breakaway Igbo state. "Half a yellow sun" is Biafra's emblem of hope, but the horrors and misery Adichie's characters endure transform the promising image of a rising sun into that of a sun setting grimly over a blood-soaked and starving land. Adichie has masterminded a commanding, sensitive epic about a vicious civil war that, for all its particular nightmares, parallels every war predicated by prejudice and stoked by outside powers hungry for oil and influence. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History is people Feb. 15 2007
By Friederike Knabe TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Most of us will have little knowledge of the Biafra war, except, possibly, for the media's haunting images of starving children. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings her people's world to us in this beautifully crafted, deeply moving, novel. Set in Nigeria during the 1960s, the narrative alternates between the optimistic early years of the decade and the civil war period at the end of it. With her extraordinary storytelling skill, Adichie draws the reader into an absorbing account of fictionalized realities that is impossible to put down - or to forget after the last page is read. With this, her second novel, she confirms her international reputation, established first with Purple Hibiscus, as one of the leading new voices of African literature.

While the war for Biafra's independence, born out of highly complex Nigerian and international political circumstances, provides the essential context for the novel, Adichie's focus is on the personal and private, the struggle of the civilian Igbo population. Her depiction of the horrors of war, the starvation and destruction is realistic. Yet she does not allow these scenes to take over and succeeds in not overwhelming the reader with them. By concentrating on one family and its close circle of friends and neighbours, Adichie creates an intimate portrait of these people's lives during both these critical periods. She paints her characters and their ongoing interactions against the panoramic view of events and environments that influence their lives and challenges their peace and even their existence.

Central to her story are the twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, from a wealthy middleclass Igbo family. The beautiful Olanna leaves Lagos for a university environment to be with her political firebrand lover, the math professor Odenigbo.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and engaging novel March 19 2009
Format:Paperback
I had been suffering from an inability to complete a novel for a period of months. I found myself losing interest mid-way through books and thought something was wrong with me. I joined a book club and through discussion with the members thought perhaps it was the books I was reading and not me. When it was my turn to host the book club I chose this novel and began reading with trepidation. Well I was fully engaged from start to finish and confirmed that it wasn't me, the problem was in fact the books I had been reading!
I loved this book, as did the other members of my club. I found the characters so real and interesting and their stories consuming. I learned a great deal from this book, not only the history of this civil war, but also about people. I love the way the author set her story in such a horrific time without making the novel feel like a prelude to depression and hopelessness. The book was real and not without tragedy, yet hope and resilience were the prevailing themes. The book follows many characters without confusing the reader or watering down their stories. It truly is the work of a highly skilled author!
Definitely on a must read list and my current number one recommendation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Page after page, simply wonderful July 30 2008
Format:Paperback
In Nigeria, devastated by civil war in the 1960s, we see the birth of the state of Biafra and relearn quite a bit of history. It is through the eyes of three different characters, whose personal tales intertwine, that history blends with their difficult paths:

Ugwu, a houseboy for eccentric university lecturer Odenigbo. Olanna, whose parents raise her and twin sister Kainene in the most privileged of backgrounds in Lagos; she leaves everything behind to follow Odenigbo as they are very much in love. Richard, a timid British national charmed by the Igbo culture and enthralled by Kainene, whose personality is an enigma for everyone. Obviously many other characters rotate all around and as we become acquainted with each of them, their presence is always pertinent and complementary to the main story.

I would not add anything else as the tale would be spoiled but I cannot refrain from strongly recommending this book as it is informative in many ways, its narrative flows beautifully, heartbreakingly, even comically at times and your heart is captured within the lines. It does not dwell on the violence of war even though it (the violence) is perceived in subtle but incredibly effective ways.

Read this book, you will not regret it. Quoting from my review title, simply wonderful, indeed.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ties That Bind . . . in Peace and War May 7 2007
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Highly recommended!

Strip away the thin veneer of civilization, and history teaches that you can quickly fall into savagery. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie disagrees with that conclusion. She sees elemental nobility in people that overcomes for most even the most trying conditions. As a result, Half of a Yellow Sun is a very hopeful work, despite recounting the horrors of the Biafran attempt to separate from Nigeria in 1967-70. She also realizes that even the best people will slip up . . . and deserve forgiveness when they do if they repent.

However, betray someone at a personal level . . . and that's much harder to take than mere life-threatening and degrading challenges. The contrast between surviving external conditions and personal betrayal is deftly and powerfully made in this kaleidoscope of how world politics, colonial policies, religious differences, tribal influences, geographical prejudices, racism, economic class consciousness, business activities, family connections, friendships, sexual desire, obligations, and personal favors interplay.

At the center of the story is one household at rural Nsukka University comprised of the socialist-leaning professor Odenigbo, his beautiful mistress Olanna, daughter of Chief Ozobia, and their houseboy, Ugwu. The plot also heavily involves Olanna's fraternal twin sister, Kainene, who runs the family business interests and her lover, the ineffectual English writer, Richard Churchill. Intellectuals from Odenigbo's university circles also stand-in as surrogates for various attitudes in society. In fact, each character is clearly symbolic of one part of the story or the other. Follow their fates, and you get a good sense of the author's ideas of what happened to the overall social fabric.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting tale of love, politics, war and depravity
Ms. Chimamanda tells her story using three different narrators, Ugwa, a houseboy who moves from a tiny village to work for Odenigbo, a professor at a university in the Nigerian... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Len
3.0 out of 5 stars Sad Story
This is not an uplifting book. The story of how Biafra was established and then taken back by Nigeria, it was a bit depressing but uplifting in how the people stuck to their... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Lipant
5.0 out of 5 stars a real masterpiece!
It's highly engaging: informative, tragic, funny, poignant ...triggering our deepest thoughts and emotions. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Nanou
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I have ever read
After having spent a lot of time in West Africa, this book has really captured my heart. No matter who you are or where you live, this is a must read!
Published 9 months ago by Brigitte Bilodeau
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting story on perhaps Africa's most interesting country
It was the blurb that first caught my attention. Then the fact that the story is on the Nigerian Civil war I was researching at the time made me go for this book. Read more
Published 9 months ago by John T C
4.0 out of 5 stars Biafran Tragedy Not Over
Interesting book on Biafra, bringing forward details that we read about at the time and making them human. Shows the strength of the female psyches.
Published 14 months ago by Anne Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read!!
This book is a must-read. Generally I do not enjoy books about war, civil or otherwise, but Adichie does a marvellous job of creating characters you won't want to leave, and you... Read more
Published on Dec 28 2009 by P. Field
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and epic masterpiece on gender, power, war, and the...
A brilliant novel by a brilliant novelist. Adiche employs her beautiful prose as a means of exploring the complicated and nuanced history of the struggle for Biafran independence. Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2009 by J. Pollock
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