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4.7 out of 5 stars
Half of a Yellow Sun
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2013
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.
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on July 28, 2015
She is an amazing writer.
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