Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

Before I proceed to talking about the book, I would first like to say THANK YOU to all my readers! This is my 100th post on this blog and I just wanted to take the time to say thanks. Whether you have been here since the very beginning or only dropped by to read a couple articles here and there, it means a lot to me. Thank you!

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Now onto the actual book review

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Publisher: Knopf

Year: 2006

I have read this book on and off over a period of 3 months. That is partly because of how time consuming my studies were this past semester. It is also for a couple more reasons that I will mention below.

First things first, if there is anything this book has made me realize, it’s how western-centric most of our education is. Half of a Yellow Sun is a historiographic metafiction set in Nigeria in the 1960’s. When I first started reading it, I was looking forward to delving into Adichie’s world without a second thought. However, what I found myself doing is looking up the political and social situation in post-colonial Nigeria to be able to keep up with the plot. When I look back at my history classes, none of them covered anything south of Morocco. I can safely say that in my classes, it was mostly Moroccan history, Arab/Islamic history, and European/US history that we actually covered. Any knowledge that I have that is beyond that is simply the results of my own research.

Now, I know I might be talking just for myself, but I feel a bit more African than Arab. So when I sit down and reflect on the fact that part of that African heritage never truly gets to us, it really pains me. It is actually for this very reason that I have been making a conscious choice to read books from countries I wouldn’t necessarily have an idea about (Peru, Nigeria, Afghanistan). And even though I was actually aware of this issue, I just never thought it was this bad. In other words, reading this novel turned into making detailed research about post-colonial Nigeria. It is in fact the other main reason it has taken me so much time to read it.

Having been attracted to Adichie’s writing because of her TEDx talk, I was obviously expecting to see her deal with gender politics as well as culture and race. It is safe to say that I was not disappointed. The way she weaves her way through the plot is so effortless yet poignant. I found myself more than once re-reading some paragraphs or sentences not because I did not understand them, but because of how loudly the truth they held resonated with me. One could easily say that the book is about how the Nigerian Civil War affected the lives of the main characters. However, I see it as much more than that. While part of me wants to detail everything in the novel that deals with each one of this issues, I think I am going to refrain because I believe you should all read the book and discover for yourselves. As a Moroccan reading a book by a Nigerian author, I could very easily relate to a lot of the gendered issues dealt with in an extremely subtle way..

The third and last point I will talk about is the characters and their development. I have be scrutinizing the female characters in almost any media I consume lately and Adichie’s gave me Olanna and Kainene who portray something that I seldom find. They were two women that first seemed like the stereotypical “twins at the opposite ends of the spectrum” but they soon morphed into something a lot more interesting. As a stubborn person, I often found that trait portrayed as something that would eventually have negative repercussions. While that might be true at times, it does not mean that it does not get me where I need to go, one way or another. It was refreshing to read about characters who are just as strong headed as I am without having that be a negative identified. Of course stubbornness is not the only thing that attracted me to Kainene and Olanna. Their passion, ambition, compassion, and all together character development made for an extremely engaging read. They are the kind of strong yet flawed characters that seemed human, not a perfect hologram on paper.

Of course they are not the only characters I cared about. The author did a great job of giving us a somewhat holistic idea of each character. From Ugwu, the houseboy, to Richard, the white Englishman who is struggling to find a place for himself within a national identity crisis. As well as Aunty Ifeka, Arize, Edna, Okeoma, and so many other characters that I could relate to.

All in all, I can say that I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a book that is more than just a story but something that can stick with you. Meanwhile, I will try to find its movie adaptation and see how well it meets my expectations!

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