Title: Half of a Yellow Sun
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Page count: 448 pages (US trade paperback)
My rating: 3/5 stars
Trigger warnings for the book: death, disease, malnourishment, war, racism, gore
Spoiler warnings for this review: this is NOT a spoiler-free review, so only read this if you`ve either read the book or don`t mind spoilers!
With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.
This was something of a book of firsts for me: first book (that I can remember) by an African author, first book set in Africa so by definition also the first book set in Nigeria.
The sudden culture clash was very interesting to the part of me that is still an intercultural communication student. I`m glad I know more about Nigeria and some of the struggles it`s gone through, as I knew absolutely nothing prior to reading this book. I`m not even exaggerating: I had to look up where Nigeria exactly is, as my mental image was way off. So I definitely learned a lot from this book, both in terms of culture and in different perspectives.
Unfortunately, the reader in me did not agree with this interesting perspective. In all honesty? I thought the writing wasn`t that good. I found both the story and the characters to be very dull most of the time. I wanted to grab their shoulders and shake them and shout at them about what they think they`re doing.
If it wasn`t for the fact that I`m so interested in other cultures and found this book to be an interesting insight, I`d have put the book down after the first 100 pages since nothing had happened yet by then.
The book is also not very subtle in its social justice themes. This part is understandable: it is set in a time where an entire nation is trying to become independent while still having very strong ties to its colonial past. There`s racism galore, both between the Nigerians/Biafrans and the British, and between the different groups of people within Nigeria (especially Igbo vs everyone else).
Still, the book was just interesting enough to get me through it completely, even if I did struggle quite a bit at some points. I`m sure there are plenty of people who absolutely love it, who do see it as a literary masterpiece. I`m personally just not one of these people.
I`m probably not picking up other books by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. But I am definitely picking up more books set in other continents than Europe & North America, because in all honesty I`m both surprised and a bit ashamed that I have so little of them.
If you`ve read this book, let me know what you thought!
Take care 🙂
(Pro tip: if you read this book, do not – and I repeat, do NOT – look up images of what the cities look like. I got treated to a picture of a man burning. So. Maybe don`t go there if you`re sensitive to those things like I am.)