This is the second novel by Chimamanda Ngozi
Purple Hibiscus (2002) which is also set in Nigeria.
It was published in hardcover in 2006 when the author was 29,
and won the prestigious Orange Prize in 2007. The Orange
Prize (underwritten by the telecommunications company, Orange)
is awarded to the best full length novel written in English by a
woman of any nationality.
Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable, totally absorbing epic about a small corner of the vast continent of Africa that many Westerners couldn't find on a map, but is nonetheless home to 120 million people. It's a story of ethnic allegiances, moral responsibility and love which puts a face on the devastating civil war that erupted less than 40 years ago, in 1967, when the Igbo people, responding to the mass killings of their people, attempted to break away from Nigeria to form their own independent nation of Biafra, triggering a three-year civil war that left an estimated 3 million dead (see sidebar).
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.
The book title is a reference to the short-lived Biafran flag - 3 horizontal stripes, red, black and green, with a bright yellow half sun in the center of the central black stripe, its eleven rays representing the eleven provinces of Biafra. In 400 intense pages Adichie takes us from the hopeful early days of the sun rising over a new country; to the terrible, grim conclusion of the broken and starving land three years later. It is quite stunning.
About the Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(pronounced Chim-muh-MAHN-duh en-GOH-zee ah-DEECH-ee-(ay) The
ay is soft, not quite a diphthong) is currently attending
graduate school in the African Studies program at Yale and
working on her next book.
Brought up as a Roman Catholic, Adichie is from the Biafran region of Nigeria, but was born after the civil war ended. Her father, a professor of statistics, lost everything in the war but eventually became vice-chancellor of the University of Nigeria. As a child she devoured Enid Blyton books and soon started writing her own books with middle-class white characters "exactly like Enid Blyton's". It was only later, when she began to read African books that she realized that black Africans "could actually exist" in literature.
When asked what led her to write Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie replies:
"Because I lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war, because the war changed the course of Igbo history, because "Biafra" is still an incredibly potent word in Nigeria today, because many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved, because my father has tears in his eyes when he speaks of losing his father, and my mother has never spoken at length about losing her father, because almost every Igbo person alive in the 1960s was affected by the pre-war massacres, because colonialism makes me angry, because the thought of the egos of organizations and men leading to the unnecessary deaths of children makes me angry, because I think we are in danger of forgetting."
This review was originally published in September 2006, and has been updated for the September 2007 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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