Monday, April 14, 2008

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie .

I have just finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The title depicts part of the Biafra flag. This novel is set in 1960's Nigeria and has 5 main characters whose lives change as the country is blighted by civil war and famine. This book won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007 which is one of the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary prizes, awarded annually for the best original full-length novel by a female author of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK in the preceding year. I have not read the other books that were nominated for this award but this novel is a quality read. It is first class and should appeal to both men and women. Chimamanda is an excellent story teller and she has the talent to tell a story that is a world apart from the reader's own experience. I was a child when the crisis developed in Nigeria yet reading this novel you feel as though you are living through the story. I remember television news reports about the refugees, the famine and the starvation. Since then I have always held the high value of food and have always been offended by food waste. Chimamanda explains the staple Nigerian food of Garri and that when things get really bad children are catching and roasting lizards to eat. I have never been to Nigeria but Chimamanda explains local life and customs so well that you always understand what is going on.

The book is full of local colour, it has humour which is subtle. There is some sex involved but it is not vulgar and would not offend your grandmother. There is some violence which is to be expected because of the realities of war. This is a gritty novel but it is not a difficult read. It will raise emotions in the reader and you will question your views about people you do not know, have never met and look a little different to you. It will challenge your views on race, class and gender roles but Chimamanda does not preach to you, she lets you come to your own conclusions.

I found this book very moving and the story really drew me in. It is very sad in places and made me want to cry. The pace of the book is right and Chimamanda has slotted everything together really well. The book ends and leaves the reader grieving for Kainene but that is the point - you the reader then feel the pain that an awful lot of people in Nigeria during the 1960's had to live through. The pain of not knowing stays with you in real life just like the feelings you get when you finish this book. You can move on to another book and will get over it. Richard, Olanna, Odenigbo, Ugwu and Baby have to live with this not knowing what happened to Kainene.

I was really impressed with this book and on the strength of this I hope to read her first novel called Purple Hibiscus sometime in the future.
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