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Half of a Yellow Sun

Apr 11, 2008, 4:44 AM | Article By: By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Publishers: Harper Perennial

ISBN: 978-0-00-720028-3 Paperback; 433

Set before and during the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970, Half of a Yellow Sun is a story of three people caught up in the throes of war. The story opened with Ugwu leaving his village to stay with the protagonist Odenigbo, a mathematics lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, whose charisma wins the heart of Olanna, the daughter of the super-rich Chief Ozobia. Olanna's twin sister Kainene on the other hand falls in love with a shy Englishman Richard. Life was rosy in the pre-war years, leaving Odenigbo to have endless good times with his fellow lecturers at his university residence.

But of this changed when the Sarduana of Sokoto was killed in coup which senior Igbo military officers allegedly masterminded. The reprisal killing that followed led to the massacre of the Igbos in northern Nigeria. This inevitably led to a declaration of secession by the Igbos. In the ensuing war, life was no longer the same for Odenigbo, Olanna, Richard, Ugwu and Chief Ozobia. Chief and his wife fled to London, leaving their vast business empire behind; Odenigbo joined the win-the-war effort, working in the Manpower Directorate; Olanna took to teaching children; Kainene took to humanitarian assistance at the refugee camps; and Ugwu was conscripted by the Biafran army.

Odenigbo lost his Nsukka home and was reduced to nothing as the war worsened. He had to change homes again and again until he and his family finally had to stay with his sister-in-law, who got lost just before the war ended.

In this book, Ms Adichie distinguished herself as a writer of class. She writes with the ease of an accomplished writer, expressing herself with uncommon clarity of mind. As the story eases forward, all the vital ingredients that make a story work stand out in stark relief. The narration is so engaging and compelling that the reader is effortlessly drawn in and taken through a vista of entertainment.

And this is heightened by the flawless characterisation. Using contrast to great effect, the author portrays characters that contrast sharply with one another. Odenigbo is a life-wire, compelling attention by virtue of his effervescence. By contrast, Richard is a mouse, almost always plagued by self-doubt and timidity. Between Olanna and Kainene, the contrast is also striking, with Olanna coming across as the foil of Kainene. While Olanna is daddy's daughter, "the good one", Kainene is an enigmatic woman with a mind of her own.

But the strength of the narrative lies in its descriptive details backed with action. There is no dull moment in the narrative, just as no single description is superfluous. And this is accentuated by the use of imagery, which has the force of transporting the reader to the scenes being described.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a great story that you enjoy reading, provided you are able to get past the many stereotypes that many Nigerians may disapprove of, especially non-Igbo speaking Nigerians. The author is probably aware of this resentment, hence she says: "Successful fiction does not need to be validated by 'real life'; I cringe whenever a writer is asked how much of a novel is 'real'".

If you enjoy reading a good story, you will enjoy reading Half of a Yellow Sun.