Friday, September 5, 2008

Half Of A Yellow Sun

Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book, which won the Orange Prize in 2007, follows a couple and their families during the Biafran separation from Nigeria and the war that followed from that separation. The main characters are Odenigbo, a professor, Olanna, a teacher who lives with Odenigbo and marries him during the war and their houseboy Ugwu. Other charaacters are Baby, their child, and Olanna's twin sister and her lover, Kainene and Richard.
The book portrays several themes. One is the rapidity with which chaos can overtake lives. The Biafrans started their independance from Nigeria convinced that they would win, as they believed they were in the right. The journey from the war being a slight inconvience to starvation, loss of property, conscription of anyone able to fight and injury and death happens quickly. It is amazing how things that were unimaginable a few weeks earlier now seem commonplace and desirable,, such as a fried grasshopper to eat as others had nothing.
Another theme is betrayal. The Biafran government was betrayed, by Nigeria, who tolerated and encouraged massacres that caused the Igbo people of Biafra to sucede. They were betrayed by the superpowers of the world, which did not recognize the new country. They were betrayed by relief organizations that let thousands of children and adults starve to death, while corruption in the organizations was rampant. There were constant betrayals by what had been considered friends the day before, as survival became more and more difficult. And there were personal betrayals, between lovers. Both Olanna and Odenigbo had affairs, and Olanna's was with her twin sister's lover. The way that these characters overcame and forgave betrayals was a major focus of the book.
Finally, as difficult as it may be to believe, a theme of the book was hope. The ability of the characters to adjust to their circumstances, and move on from various trajedies was seen again and again. The development of Ugwu from an ignorant country boy to an educated man with hope and a future showed hope for the future.
Adichie's writing was luminous. She portrayed a time of horror accurately and took the reader to that time and place, until the reader cringed when another bombing run occurred. She wrote of horrors and how they affected those who witnessed them. Finally, she wrote of how one survives such events, and how relationships with others provide hope and the ability to rebuild lives. This book is highly recommended.

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