Oh, this book. This beautiful, sad, moving book. I can’t even imagine my literary life without Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in it. Americanah is going straight to my to-read list. If you’ve never read anything by hers, do yourself a favor and read this book.
Half of a Yellow Sun takes place when Biafra is asserting its independence from Nigeria. It follows a beautifully complex array of characters: a teenager, Ugwu who comes to work as a houseboy for a professor, Odenigbo; the professor himself; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful and complicated mistress; Kainene, her twin sister; and Richard, the reserved Englishman hopelessly in love with Kainene. Each character is fully developed and recognized, and comes to interact with the other characters in such a way that is organic and natural–just the right way to construct a novel of this complexity and length.The novel moves backward and forwards in time, from the early to the late sixties, and back again, showing how certain leaps in the plot came to be. Against this backdrop is the struggle for independence itself–violent, visceral, and utterly devastating to the life these people had built for themselves.
I felt deeply melancholy when I finished this book. It’s sad and a little uncertain, but ends exactly the way it should. More than that, though, reading about hardship and deprivation is very…unsettling. These are well-educated people forced to struggle for existence, and it’s discomfiting and highly disturbing. As it should be. As a middle-class Westerner, I never think about the lives of others, but Adichie minces no words in demonstrating how political upheaval in countries like Nigeria can tear apart the very fabric of daily life. It’s a struggle to find your humanity in the face of such violence, but how each of these characters tries to cope is well worth the read. This is a novel I plan to teach as soon as I can, and I am going to recommend it to everyone I know. Starting with you.