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4.7 out of 5 stars
28
Half of a Yellow Sun
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on February 15, 2007
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]
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on September 17, 2016
Great book. Sad story about the Biafra war. Very informative. Two of the hardest parts for me where the two accounts of soldiers gang rape. But it wasn’t as raw and account as toni morrison "bluest eye's" rape accounts. I recommend this book, and all of Chimamamda Ngozi Adichie's books. Remember to also read Buchi Emecheta, Chinua Achebe, amd Wole Soyinka. I am glad she is one of them, in the new generation...
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on November 17, 2014
I put off reading this because of the mention of the war in Biafra, but it is not depressing. Sad in places, but fascinating. Set in the early and late 1960s in Nigeria it follows three main characters: a houseboy, a woman from a rich family, and a lost white Englishman.
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on April 6, 2017
I finally got my copy of this great book. It also arrived in good time.
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on November 20, 2017
A great read!
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on November 4, 2017
Excellent
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on December 22, 2017
Great
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on November 19, 2016
Interesting and engaging.
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on May 2, 2015
I was young when there were news reports about Biafra and (I am ashamed to say) there were jokes that had Biafra or starving children as the punch line. So when I heard a (most excellent) TED talk that Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche gave "The Danger of a Single Story" my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to read some books about Africa.

Half of a Yellow Sun shows multiple sides of the characters, their good, kind sides and the mistakes (sometimes horrific) that they make. It shows how affluence can come crashing down, how people are when they have nothing. It shows corruption of tribes and how big countries like the US and Russia do atrocious things (like shoot down planes carrying food) to interfere with the outcome of an African civil war and hide behind diplomacy. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche knew people who experienced this and did her research and then creates a story of fiction that closely resembles the truth. And why were these big countries so interested in the outcome of this civil war? Why oil of course.

This is an excellent book, well written - I would give it more stars if it were allowed.
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on July 30, 2008
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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