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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History is people,
This review is from: Half of a Yellow Sun (Hardcover)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. Kainene, on the other hand, having inherited their father's talents, shines as a confident business woman. English researcher and writer, Richard, friend of Odenigbo, falls under her spell. Adichie explores the interactions sisterly intimacy and love as well as its serious tests with sensitivity and empathy for both. Through them and their surroundings she also touches on the social, political and religious tensions of the time.
The list of main characters wouldn't be complete without Ugwu. Brought into the Odenigbo household as a house boy, he matures from the naive village boy to become a well educated, articulate and caring member of the extended family. In fact, Ugwu acts as a sort of understudy to the narrator, adding a very distinctly personal flair to the description of events and bridging the reality of his own family's rural environment with that of the intellectually stimulating social gatherings at the professor's house.
During the war years, intimacies, friendships and loyalties are put to the test. Will they survive the dramatically changed circumstances that the group finds itself in? Some are evicted from their homes and have to join the endless stream of refugees to find shelter and food for survival. Others move into remote rural areas to escape the fighting. Olanna's efforts to maintain her dignity and to protect her small family come alive on the page. So does Kainene's work with her confidence that she can beat adversity and barriers in her efforts to maintain the supplies for a refugee camp. They don't lose hope or humanity. Odenigbo and Richard have their own demons to tackle. And Ugwu juggles his various roles while attempting to maintain something of a private life for himself.
Half of a Yellow Sun, also the symbol of the short-lived Biafran state, represents some of the best that storytelling has to offer. With strong imagery and beautiful language Adichie has created a masterwork. [Friederike Knabe]
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Biafran Tragedy Not Over,
This review is from: Half of a Yellow Sun (Paperback)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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and engaging novel,
This review is from: Half of a Yellow Sun (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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ties That Bind . . . in Peace and War,
This review is from: Half of a Yellow Sun (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.
Two things make this book special: First, Ms. Adichie has captured the psychologies of different times in Nigeria and Biafra in a subtle and interesting way. Her book is very much more about the psychological landscape than about the physical one. No doubt she was helped by her interviews with her relatives and others still living who experienced those days. Second, she takes the time to endow ordinary life with extraordinary meaning. It's a beautiful gift.
The book has two weaknesses from my perspective: Ms. Adichie curiously decides to turn some of the personal events into a mystery so that for some pages you see characters estranged from one another . . . but without knowing the reason. I felt like this approach simply served to make the story harder to understand . . . as though the reader didn't really qualify to know family matters. The other weakness is that many characters are drawn very superficially while Ms. Adichie shows enormous skill in portraying great depths concerning Olanna, Ugwu, and Odenigbo.
For those of us who don't live in Africa, it's always exciting to see events there from the perspective of Africans . . . rather than American journalists and visiting politicians. I felt deeply rewarded by reading this fine book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Page after page, simply wonderful,
This review is from: Half of a Yellow Sun (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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful and epic masterpiece on gender, power, war, and the postcolonial struggle for Biafran independence,
This review is from: Half of a Yellow Sun (Paperback)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. Half of a Sun approaches the Biafran war in a nuanced manner through a diverse group of protagonists, each with different perspectives on the ensuing conflict. Her exploration of politics, gender, sex, war, power, and the postcolonial Nigerian context are enthralling. Half of a Yellow Sun is an epic masterpiece and one of the best books I have read.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read!!,
This review is from: Half of a Yellow Sun (Paperback)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 will follow them spell-bound as they experience the horrors of civil war.
Historically this book opened my eyes, and I highly recommend it.
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Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Paperback - Sept. 4 2007)
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