And it’s wrong of you to think love leaves room for nothing else.
It’s possible to love something and still condescend to it.
This book broke my heart.
Set in the 1960’s, pre- and towards the end of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War, it’s a moving and violent account of political and cultural struggle. I’ll admit that, before reading this novel, I knew very little about this period of history. And even now, having subsequently read up on the subject, I feel that I still haven’t learned enough – there are important stories to be heard. In this novel, Adichie does not shy away from lending prose to the cruel realities of war, of suffering, injustice and unrelenting conflict; there were several times while reading this that I had to shut the novel and mentally remove myself from what was being told. It’s a gut-punch reminder that people lived, and still do live, these nightmares.
At its core, Half of a Yellow Sun is a story of love – love of country, of people, of lovers, friends and family; I think the above quote perfectly describes the love portrayed in this book – and the frailty and endurance of the human spirit. Its characters are its centre and they are formed strikingly through their actions and choices. There is Ugwu, a village boy sent to serve as houseboy to the enigmatic university professor, Odenigbo; Olanna, Odenigbo’s lover and known for her beauty; Kainene, the serious, witty one, Olanna’s twin sister, and my favourite character for her strength and instinct; Richard, a British journalist writing a book about Nigeria, infatuated with Kainene. These characters instantly draw you in and their perspectives are powerful depictions of the emotional and personal consequences of the war. Throughout the conflict, their need to survive in a time of scarcity, instability and fear, changes them (some shockingly, almost unrecognizable) and their actions become evident of how circumstances sometimes influence and dictate human behaviour. But it’s not just the threat of death on their doorstep – the all too everyday matters of betrayal, infidelity and family politics greatly impact their decisions.
A powerful novel, beautifully told.