Summary and book reviews of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2006,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2007,
    528 pages.

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Book Summary

A masterly, haunting new novel from a writer heralded by The Washington Post Book World as “the 21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe,” Half of a Yellow Sun re-creates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria in the 1960s, and the chilling violence that followed.

With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor’s beautiful mistress, who has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. And Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s twin sister, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and the three must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.

Epic, ambitious, and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race—and the ways in which love can complicate them all. Adichie brilliantly evokes the promise and the devastating disappointments that marked this time and place, bringing us one of the most powerful, dramatic, and intensely emotional pictures of modern Africa that we have ever had.

Excerpt
Half a Yellow Sun

Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair. Ugwu's aunty said this in a low voice as they walked on the path. "But he is a good man," she added. "And as long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day." She stopped to spit; the saliva left her mouth with a sucking sound and landed on the grass.

Ugwu did not believe that anybody, not even this master he was going to live with, ate meat every day. He did not disagree with his aunty, though, because he was too choked with expectation, too busy imagining his new life away from the village. They had been walking for a while now, since they got off the lorry at the motor park, and the afternoon sun burned the back of his neck. But he did not mind. He was prepared to walk hours more in even hotter sun. He had never seen anything like the streets that ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About This Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your group's conversation about Half of a Yellow Sun, a richly imagined story of the disastrous war between Nigeria and Biafra, largely forgotten in the West, which won the 2007 Orange Prize in Britain and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.


About This Book

Half of a Yellow Sun returns to a critical moment in the modern history of Nigeria, a time shortly after gaining their independence from Britain when, following a massacre of their people, the Igbo tribes of the southeast seceded and established The Republic of Biafra. Three years of civil war followed as Biafra was ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Adichie delivers a searing, never dry, history lesson packaged into a strong and deeply effecting, even sensuous, story seen primarily through the eyes of the wealthy and well connected twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, and the particularly compelling character of Ugwu, the 13-year-old peasant houseboy of a radical university professor.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (937 words).

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Binyavanga Wainaina, author of Discovering Home, founder of the journal Kwani, and winner of The Caine Prize for African Writing
Astonishing . . . fierce and beautifully written. Chimamanda continues to lead us from the front with her powerful new book. So much of the experience of our generation of Africans is about how we find ourselves reacting to our times based on wars and battles and events that we know little about, but which continue to define us. We need to take control of our history, so we can manage our present. And it is this idea that is the inspiration behind this novel . . . . Half of a Yellow Sun is honest and cutting, and always, always human, always loving . . . . It is a pleasure to read Chimamanda’s crisp, resonant prose. We see how every person's belonging is contested in a new nation; find out that nobility of purpose has no currency in this contest; how powerfully we can love; how easily we can kill; how human we can be when a war dedicates itself to stripping our humanity from us. Half of a Yellow Sun is ambitious, impeccably researched . . . Penetrating . . . epic and confident. Adichie refuses to look away.

Author Blurb Chinua Achebe
We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. Her experimentation with the dual mandate of English and Igbo in perennial discourse is a case in point. Timid and less competent writers would avoid the complication altogether, but Adichie embraces it because her story needs it. She is fearless, or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria's civil war. Adichie came almost fully made.

Times Literary Supplement (London)

Half of a Yellow Sun strikes one as a fresh examination of the ravages of war [because] of Adichie’s poignant handling of human emotions, in a range of circumstances from romance to conflict.

The Observer (UK)

An immense achievement . . . as well as freshly recreating this nightmarish chapter in her country's history, she writes about the slow process by which love, if strong enough, may overcome.

The Scotsman

Absorbing . . . I couldn’t put the book down . . . [a] leap forward in the career of a very talented writer.

Library Journal

..the story line is not as well developed as the setting, and the characters fail to emerge fully. Not as great as the sum of its parts.

Publishers Weekly

A transcendent novel of many descriptive triumphs... a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Adichie has masterminded a commanding, sensitive epic about a vicious civil war that, for all its particular nightmares, parallels every war predicated by prejudice and stoked by outside powers hungry for oil and influence.

Elle Magazine

Brilliant . . . A stunning sophomore effort ....this is what great fiction does – it simultaneously devours and ennobles, and it is freely acknowledged invention comes to be truer than the facts upon which it is built.

Reader Reviews
Grace

Excellent
Chimamanda did a great job in her portrayal of the demons in every human. Just think of the atrocities people commit in war situations. We need writers like her to remind us from time to time that it is up to us to make our world the way we want it ...   Read More

Vanger Fater

Half of a yellow Sun
Chimamanda N.A has taken Nigerian literature to its modern form. Her 'Half of a Yellow Sun' in no doubt has proved this.

eyen amos

reflections
Chimamanda's book has empowered the literary world. Her relating of the Biafra war and all the bizarre things that took place; and yet still finding a way to weave the ugly situation with beautiful things going on in the mind of a young child and the...   Read More

Valerie

Highly recommended
An excellent book - well written, deep character development, and very informative about countries in civil war.

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Beyond the Book

A Short History of Biafra and Nigeria

Located on the west coast of Africa, Nigeria (map) is the most populous country in Africa (~122 million in an area about double that of California).  It became a state in 1960 when it declared its independence from Britain. In 1966 a series of coups and counter coups started that continued until 1999 (other than for a short lived "second republic" from 1979-1983) when democracy was regained.

It was believed that the January 1966 coup was initiated by Igbo officers (the Igbo or ...

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