This review might feel a bit like the rant of crazy guy (hehehe) but read on as I give you my thoughts on Chimamanda Adichie’s book.
I have finally finished Chimamanda Adichie’s book, Half Of A Yellow Sun, after slugging through hard exams. I started off from where I’d left off while listening to ‘End Of The Beginning’, a song by Thirty Seconds To Mars. And I daresay it suited the part from where I started off, very well.
Half Of A Yellow Sun is not your normal Fiction. It is more of a multi-faceted, character-driven narrative that brings to reality the experiences of a group of people during the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War. This book is not just about war; it is about a host of different things.
The book starts off by introducing Ugwu, a young boy from an Igbo village whose life and character will be irrevocably changed by the events that follow, like the other characters in the book. Chimamanda shows us the daily struggle of a family that has to send off one of its own to another, in the hope of a better future. And so we are thrown headlong into the fierce world of Odenigbo, a self-styled Revolutionary who is also hopelessly in love with a beautiful lady, Olanna, from an enigmatic family. The story shows us the traditional fears of a mother who is afraid of something, or someone she doesn’t understand, and the lengths she will go to remedy that. I am referring to Odenigbo’s mother here, and her decision to take matters into her own hands in the quest for a Grandchild, and a Daughter-in-law she will have control over.
We are also let into the world of the Ozobia family, and the sibling rivalry that exists between the twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene. The twin sisters are as twin as an apple and an orange, but in time, the nature of their twinhood (creative license, hehehe) is revealed to be internal, and is this facilitated by the events that throw them together. Soft-spoken Olanna is the sister everybody likes, who is good not because she wants attention, but because it is who she is. She symbolizes people with the wool of naivety thrown over their eyes. Kainene is the cynical one, who symbolizes those who had to grow into the machinations of the world early in life, and who understood them.
Richard is the outsider who falls in love with a foreign culture, and falls even harder for the enigma that is Kainene. In a strange land, he opens himself, and his heart, and tries to find the thread that connects all of humanity. I daresay he succeeds in doing this.
So many characters shape this novel, but these are the principal players in this orchestra of love and war.
Half Of A Yellow Sun is a story about love and the bonds that define us as people. It tells the tales of the fierce and assured love of Odenigbo, the blind love of Olanna, the searching and hungry love of Richard, and the reluctant and cynical love of Kainene. It is a tale of the respect of Ugwu for his Master and his wife, and the bond he forms with their daughter, Baby. It is a tale of the acceptance of the situation of Eberechi, Ugwu’s love interest later in the book. It is a tale of survival, and the tenacity of the human nature to hold onto bonds, family or otherwise, when all else is falling apart.
The war depicted in the novel shows us the perseverance of people, in the face of insurmountable odds. And it also gives us a glimpse at the hardship encountered: the displacement, the hunger, the loss of lives and property, the loss of the future, and the folly of it all. It shows us the changes that can occur as a result of war, and the way it affects lives. This is shown in the withdrawal of Odenigbo, the growing awareness of Olanna, the reluctant but abrupt change in Ugwu during the war, the gradual melding of the lives of Kainene and Richard, among others.
Half Of A Yellow Sun is not just a novel. It is more of a fact-finding mission than it portrays itself to be. It asks some pertinent questions, like in this segment culled from the book:
WERE YOU SILENT WHEN WE DIED?
Did you see the photos in sixty-eight
Of Children with their hair becoming rust
Sickly patches nestled on those small heads
Then falling off, like rotten leaves on dust?
This segment, written by Ugwu (surprisingly) is part of a longer poem which is more than a picture in the sitting room of the story. It is one of the many questions asked in this book, at the neglect of the situation at the time. These are questions about the actions of the past, as well as questions about the neglect of the effects of the war. These questions still hold true today, and are a political statement in this time of volatile relationships and under-education of the present situation.
As I approached the end of the book, the song ‘Uncertainty’ by The Fray came on, and though the entire song helped reinforce the feeling of dislocation in the story, these lines struck home to the heart of the story:
Thousands are lost, maybe more
The question remains, what is this for?
Maybe it came unexpected
Maybe I’m left unprotected
Oh and that’s the last place
Yeah that’s the last place…
What the last pages of the story, and the lines above combined to say was the uncertainty of the future after a major conflict; the uncertainty that surrounds us all, as echoed in the lives of Odenigbo, Ugwu, Olanna, Richard, Baby, as they all search for Kainene, who has just become closer to her twin sister than they’d ever been in their lives. Richard searches for the one anchor in his life, while Olanna searches for a future of companionship and love with her only sibling. Odenigbo searches for the firmness of his past as he loses the brightness of the future, and Ugwu tries to come to terms with the loss of his innocence. And in the middle of it all stands Baby, who has had to endure a childhood that changed from safe to being filled with fear, death, dislocation and uncertainty. And she takes everything with the heart of a child, which is what helps keep her sanity intact.
With regards to the book itself, Chimamanda has produced a Masterpiece. I am not a fan of Literary Fiction, and though I grew up reading likes of Ngugi Wa’ Thiongo, Chukwuemeka Ike, and the book ‘The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born (which I read countless times), I am now fully immersed in the world of Popular Fiction. However, this book struck a chord within me for the reasons outlined above, and more.
Chimamanda knows how to write, simple. She didn’t make much use of dialogue in this book, but where she did she did so with clarity, and simplicity. And her words flow like fine wine, reminiscent of Anne Rice’s hypnotic style (my modern influence speaking). With deft skill, she takes us through the turbulent years, making sure not to forget the little issues in the lives of the characters while still keeping the thread. She creates an air of suspense regarding the affair of Baby, Olanna, Richard and Odenigbo, and just when you think it’s going to go on, she takes you back to the earlier years, which makes you feel like the novel cannot put a foot wrong.
Chimamanda might be a young woman, but in my opinion, Half of A Yellow Sun has already taken a place on the shelf reserved for Nigerian Classics. I can already see this being used as a Teaching Tool in schools on Literature, in the future…unless the sex scenes will be a problem for the Teachers and Parents then.
One (pleasant) surprise I had at the end of the book was the fact that the little notes at the end of each chapter are attributed to Ugwu, which further portrays the long, hard road he has travelled in such a short period of time. It also underlines the brilliance of Chimamanda.
Now the sun is coming up and as I listen to OneRepublic sing of a Lullaby, I can’t help but try to revisit the world which Chimamanda showed, draw parallels with the world I was transported to as a kid from stories my Dad told me, and try to make sense of the present and the future. And one thing I know is that this book has cemented by belief in one fact.
War is an unpleasant, dirty business.