One of my favourite (ok, I could dare to say the number one favourite) contemporary writer is the Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I have stumbled upon her, last summer when during two of my travels I have read in two different flight magazines about her highly acclaimed “Americanah”. The recommendations sparked my interest and I have decided that the book is one I should read. Of course, I could not find it in my mother tongue (I am not sure why since it has been published in 2013 and has received several awards – it has been one of the top 10 books of 2013 in The New York Times’ ranking) but Google Play helped my with the English version. I definitely liked the book (I will tell you more about “Americanah” in a future post) and because of that, I have afterwards read everything she wrote so far. And I love it!
The one book that managed to capture me altogether is the highly acclaimed “Half of a Yellow Sun”.
“Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,
The book is so full of life that makes you feel like living together with all the characters through the happy and the sad moments. It is not a happy book altogether, but after all, life is not always happy and we rarely have happy endings, especially in rough circumstances like war.
I like how the story goes from the normal life in Nigeria in the early sixties to depicting people trying to cope with the losses after the Nigerian civil war (also known as the Biafran War, that lasted from 1967 until 1970). The book describes the lives of people from different social classes:
- Olanna and Odenigbo – both university professors, have studied abroad and have a westerner visions on Nigeria’s future;
- Ugwu – the boy serving in Odenigbo’s house, who comes from a small village in rural Nigeria and does not have any studies. Through his eyes the reader can discover how it was, at the time, to go through adolescence in Nigeria, discover basic things such as running water, books, political views, up till serving in the war against his wish
- Kainene – Olanna’s very different twin sister, an independent Nigerian woman, who is running her father’s business, who does not have any problem in negotiating with state’s corrupt officials. Up until the very end of the book, even through the lowest times, she is the most driven character, fighting for food and medicine for the local community, risking everything (including her life) for other women’s and children lives.
- Richard – Kainene’s British fiancée. A writer wannabe who decides to come to Nigeria in the early sixties in order to study the African art and write a book, but falls in love with the African life and with Kainene and decides to stay there, even during and after the war.
Most of the book’s characters are Igbo, the suffering part in the Biafran War, the ethnicity who tried to create its own country based on political, territorial, ethnic and religious matters and failed to do so, having to surrender in early 1970. They all go through love, hate, war and most of all make a lot of compromises in order to live.
“…my point is that the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe…I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,
There are several strong images presented by Chimamanda that got stuck in my mind, like the Igbo lady in the train full of refugees going from the north of Nigeria to Biafra who held the head of her baby hidden in a basket; Olanna being surrounded by young men and harassed for a can of meat; Richard assisting to Igbo people being shut down in the Kano airport by the Yoruba guards, because they spoke their own language and did not know the Coran; the grown man sitting in front of the relief center sucking his thumb.
But I will leave you to discover the touching story on your own and afterwards maybe watch also the movie , I know that’s what I’ll do 🙂