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Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Sep 12, 2006 | 448 Pages
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“This prize-winning author’s place in literary history is secured with [Half of a Yellow Sun], a tribute to her people, the Igbo, who after being massacred in 1966 broke away from Nigeria to create the Republic of Biafra. [But] this novel is not a standard war account: Though we are not sheltered from its horrors, Adichie excels in the way she tells about war . . . . Her characters’ strengths are in their complexity and their flaws . . . . Throughout the story, Adichie insists on accountability and then forgiveness as the only option for redemption . . . By the end, after breaking our hearts, she uses her last sentence to blindside us with a gift. We never see it coming. With it, she offers hope in the future.”
–Marie-Elena John, Black Issues

“[It’s] hard not to place Adichie alongside a new generation of post-postcolonial writers who, while paying due respect to Achebe (and, for that matter, Kincaid, Naipaul, Gordimer, and Coetzee), are moving beyond them on their own terms . . . . Adichie’s nuanced prose takes great pains to undo the reductive attitudes many in the West harbor toward African people . . . And yet Adichie does not rant against the West . . . [Criticism] and compassion coexist. She understands that it takes many hands to shape war . . . For Adichie, pain unifies us, and it’s often that same pain that keeps us from recognizing that unity . . . Adichie’s novel [has], a narrative humility coupled with an epic ambition . . . Are there any easy answers in [Half of a Yellow Sun]? Certainly not. But Adichie, in the process, asks the hell out of her questions, rendering them in all their haunting, beautiful silence.”
–Stephen Narains, The Harvard Book Review

“A gorgeous, pitiless account of love, violence and betrayal during the Biafran war.”
Time magazine

“Rich, lyrical . . . Incorporating the lives of diverse tribes and a looming political war, [Adichie] engages readers with a story that is intoxicatingly addictive from page one.”
The Ave magazine

Half of a Yellow Sun, which follows a group of upper-class Nigerians during the social upheaval of the Biafran war of the 1960s, is a protean work of the imagination that is all the more remarkable at having been written by someone who isn’t yet 30. The novel is Tolstoyan in its grasp of history and in its ability to traverse various ends of the social spectrum from a village manservant to the daughter of wealthy bureaucrats.”
–David Milofsky, Denver Post

“The Nigerian author’s masterful novel uses the 1967 genocide in Biafra as a backdrop for a nuanced tale about decent people in moral chaos.”
–Michelle Green, People

“Alluring and revelatory . . . eloquent . . . Prize-winning Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is quickly proving herself to be fearless in the tradition of the great African writers . . . . She has a keen ability to capture the nurturing and destructive nuances that permeate human relationships. Her characters surprise themselves and the reader.”
–Aïssatou Sidimé, San Antonio Express-News

“Compelling . . . The author lyrically interweaves the stories of twin sisters, their families, friends and servants into a single story that is riveting political, social and human history . . . Insightful.”
–Jane Ramos Trimble, Panache / Fort-Worth Star Telegram magazine

“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie proves herself a talented and ambitious writer with [this] far-reaching and engrossing historical novel about the 1967 Nigerian civil war . . . [It] encompasses a large cast whose individual dramas are set within the panoramic landscape of war. Adichie’s fully realized and finely observed characters hook the reader and carry the story through wrenching events to its sorrowful, tragic conclusion . . . . Adichie’s clear-sighted examination reveals how quickly national loyalties, even when rooted in seemingly just causes, can become entangled with self-absorption, denial and even cruelty. By venturing so fearlessly into complex moral territory, Adichie reveals her talents as a novelist as well as her gifts as a perceptive observer of human behavior.”
–Heather Hewett, Newsday

“A whopping good read. It’s like Gone with the Wind, except in Nigeria.”
New York magazine

“A novel that [uses] fiction to its best advantage, telling the stories of ordinary people–loving, fallible, passionate and vulnerable–ineluctably caught in savage circumstances of chaos, breakdown and violence . . . . Adichie has immense sympathy for her characters, embracing them, faults and all . . . By the time military coups explode into mass killings, and the creation of the Republic of Biafra collapses into a vicious civil war later in the decade, you willingly follow [them] as their lives change drastically . . . . Written with unflinching clarity, what Adichie’s novel offers is a compassionate, compelling look at the nearly unfathomable immediacy of war’s effect on people . . . . Half of a Yellow Sun [ensures] that precious memories have been given eloquent and far-reaching voices. [A] heart-stopping [tribute] to that unbreakable human bond, love.”
–Daneet Steffens, Chicago Tribune

“In her sweeping novel, Adichie creates a masterful tale of Biafra’s hopeful birth and terrible death.”
The Sunday Star-Ledger

Half of a Yellow Sun entirely absorbs the reader . . . [and] leaves you reeling at the horrors people can inflict on one another. Set during the internecine Nigeria-Biafra conflict, it is a bootless, toothless cry against the wickedness of what one character describes as ‘the custodians of fate.’ The stark maturity of its vision is so startling that the great African novelist Chinua Achebe refused to believe the book could have been written by someone so young . . . From the very first page you understand just what he means. Adichie resolutely refuses to show off. She writes in a stately, almost grandiloquent manner–the mode of eons-old epics about civilizations battered by war–and relies on the potency of her story rather than flashy phrase-making to sustain the interest of her reader . . . . Adichie dramatizes the savage diurnal grind as her characters struggle to survive Biafra in the face of bombing raids, starvation and the constant threat of being overrun by Nigerian ‘vandals.’ Atrocity is ever-present, included not for shock value but simply because such horrors happened . . . Masterfully understated . . . the book takes on an urgent, visceral power . . . . [Over] the course of the book the characters burrow into your marrow and mind, and you come to care for them deeply.”
–Alistair Sooke, The Daily Telegraph (UK)

“Adichie uses layers of history, symbol and myth . . . . [and] uses language with relish. She infuses her English with a robust poetry, and the narrative is cross-woven with Igbo idiom and language. The novel reflects on language both as a means of communication, and of identity, which may be a threat or a means of belonging. Speaking Igbo instead of Yoruba may lead to a beating or death, as war erupts . . . . Adichie returns again and again to the idea of belonging. What does it mean, how do cultures create networks of belonging and exclusion? The novel circles these questions, although they can never be resolved.”
–Helen Dunmore, The Times (UK)

“After her outstanding first novel Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel was eagerly awaited and doesn’t disappoint. It is again set in her homeland of Nigeria, but this time, during the 1960s and the fratricidal Biafran war . . . . [Nigeria] has been riven by wars, saddled with military dictatorships, endemic corruption and is characterized by huge economic disparities. It has, though, also produced more than its fair share of Africa’s best writers and Adichie is undoubtedly among them. This is not an ‘African’ book in the narrow or parochial sense, but belongs in the mainstream of humanitarian world literature, even though it is firmly rooted in Nigeria. Adichie writes with a maturity that belies her mere 29 years. In her eloquent and passionate prose, the heat, the smells, the sensuality and color of Africa leap from the pages. Her characters are finely drawn and vibrantly alive . . . . Through her main characters, [Adichie] teases out the class, race and economic conflicts that are endemic in her country. Her novel explores the issues of moral responsibility, the legacies of colonialism, the consequences of ethnic ties, class and race and how relationships on a personal level intertwine and interact on these. This is a novel which does more than tickle the taste buds, it takes the reader deep into African reality and the souls of our brothers and sisters in a part of the world that rarely figures on our world map unless there is a catastrophe or calamity of enormous proportions.”
–John Green, Morning Star (UK)

“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s luminous and formidable talent was first seen in Purple Hibiscus. Her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, takes its title from the emblem for Biafra, the breakaway state in eastern Nigeria that survived for only three years, and whose name became a global byword for war by starvation. Adichie’s powerful focus on war’s impact on civilian life, and the trauma beyond the trenches, earns this novel a place alongside such works as Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy and Helen Dunmore’s depiction of the Leningrad blockade, The Siege . . . . As Biafran secession ‘for security’ brings a refugee crisis, a retaliatory Nigerian blockade and all-out war, and world refuses to recognize the fledgling state, the focus is on the characters’ grief, resilience, and fragmenting relationships . . . . A landmark novel, whose clear, undemonstrative prose can so precisely delineate nuance . . . [A] rare emotional truth . . . . Adichie is part of a new generation revisiting the history that her parents survived. She brings to it a lucid intelligence and compassion, and a heartfelt plea for memory.”
–Maya Jaggi, The Guardian (UK)

“Set in 1960s Nigeria, this novel provides a historical record at the same time as giving an insight into the experience of living through a bloody civil war . . . . Adichie is a beguiling author . . . . Full of drama and characters you care about . . . Educational and enlightening.”
The Works (UK) (four stars)

“Set during the Nigerian/Biafran civil war in the late Sixties, this moving and thrilling book centers on the lives of two twin sisters and those close to them . . . . Adichie has the rare gift of being able to create a whole person in a couple of lines. Her compassion for her people is all-embracing as she gently mocks their little foibles and refuses to judge what war makes them capable of. This book paints a massive canvas through intimate detail. It is funny, heartbreaking, exquisitely written, and, without doubt, a literary masterpiece and a classic.”
–John Harding, Daily Mail (UK)

“In her richly imagined new novel, Adichie recounts [the] explosive time [before and during the Biafran War] through the tales of several people linked through love, loyalty and birth . . . bringing alive events that remain for many of us remote both in time and place . . . [All] of the main characters share [the] same fevered patriotism for their new homeland. But as the horrors of war mount, they must fight to keep their relationships together, as their world and their ideals are torn apart. The power behind this novel lies in how seamlessly Adichie melds the personal and the political in her narrative. War is defined not only by the casualties of civilians and soldiers, but by the death of a collective dream. The Republic of Biafra may be gone, but thanks to Adichie, it is not forgotten.”
–Amy Woods Butler, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Conflict and corruption, exile and loss. The new novelists chronicling modern Nigeria and its place in the world shy from none of it. But it’s not just their attention to the big issues that these literary heirs to Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe have in common. There’s the food . . . [In] describing the textures and smells of the kitchen and the way the making and eating of meals can define an individual’s place in society, the novelists find the universal in the details. And in hunger, they find a metaphor for other human yearnings–for peace, for justice, for home . . . While several common themes run through their work, these new Nigerians are a diverse group. Their rise brings to mind the late 1990s prominence of debuting Indian writers like Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai who explored similar issues in starkly different ways . . . ‘For me, it was gratifying to hear from people who are not Nigerian, not African, that they saw themselves in the novel,’ Adichie, perhaps the best known of the new voices from Nigeria, said of her first novel, Purple Hibiscus. This year, Adichie followed with the even more ambitious Half of a Yellow Sun, which was named a New York Times editors’ choice.”
The Associated Press / International Herald Tribune

“Powerful . . . a complex tale of human passions and flaws . . . The main characters share the proud desire to build a new nation out of the chaos of postcolonial Nigeria. Yet [Half of a Yellow Sun] deftly avoids becoming a political manifesto . . . Adichie subtly nods at those responsible for the massacre without sliding into polemics. [She] refuses to turn away from the past’s ugly reality, mourning not just the lives lost but a time when ‘people believed deeply in something.’ Through her dazzling storytelling, that time will not be easily forgotten.”
–Amber Haq, Newsweek International

“[Half of a Yellow Sun] spans the decade to the end of the Biafran war, in which more than a million people died. Its focus is the impact of the war on [Adichie’s] characters and the characters they interact with. A story striking for its speed . . . Direct . . . It works, mysteriously, and is strange and new.”
–Eleanor Birne, London Review of Books

“Based loosely on political events in nineteen-sixties Nigeria, [Half of a Yellow Sun] focuses on two wealthy sisters, who drift apart as the newly independent nation struggles to remain unified . . . After a series of massacres targeting the Igbo people, [their] carefully genteel world disintegrates. Adichie indicts the outside world for its indifference and probes the arrogance and ignorance that perpetuated the conflict. Yet this is no polemic. The characters and landscape are vividly painted, and details used to heartbreaking effect.”
The New Yorker

“Richly drawn . . . We develop great sympathy and affection for [Adichie’s characters] as the story moves along, and come to care very much about what is in store for them, as all the very best novels make us do . . . . [This] is not primarily a political novel, but a novel about a group of people undergoing a catastrophe and somehow enduring . . . desperately clinging to their belief that they will prevail . . . A moving tribute . . . [It] will not be long before Half of a Yellow Sun becomes a classic [and] comes to take its place in world literature, alongside the masterpieces of the post-colonial world.”
–Richard Stack, New Haven Independent

“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has delivered a big novel about life in modern Nigeria during war time. The war in question is the Biafran War of the 1960s, during which the southern region of Biafra fought unsuccessfully to secede . . . The book mainly follows the fortunes of Olanna . . . a beautiful, well-educated Igbo woman . . . and those of a psychologically fascinating and varied cast of characters, from high-society colonials on down to Ugwu, an Igbo country boy. Though their daily lives and destinies as well are tied to the end of peace and the rise of war, Adichie makes them above all else interesting, even compelling, as sharply defined individuals. This lends to the novel a powerful psychological element that we don’t always find in historical fiction. Ms. Adichie is far too young for us to declare that she’s the Tolstoy of west Africa . . . But she’s as good as any of her contemporaries, who are a talented lot indeed, at keeping our interest alive in a part of the world that most of us have never visited–until now.”
–Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, National Public Radio

“Engrossing . . . [Half of a Yellow Sun] incisively explores the disjunction between history as it is experienced personally and its result: that the world will continue to trundle on its way in spite of history’s injustices. Set during the turbulent first decades of Nigeria’s independence in the 1960s, which saw the county torn apart by the Biafran Civil War, the novel vividly brings to life the political and cultural crises that beset post-independence Nigeria. Moving back and forth in time between the euphoric optimism of independence in the early 60s and the nightmarish descent into civil war in the late 60s, Adichie probes the impact of politics and war on the psyche of ordinary people . . . Adichie’s characters are ultimately powerless to control the course of events . . . [but] the consolation for the trials of history, the novel seems to say, are the human bonds that individuals forge with one another. In its deeply insightful portrayal of one of Nigeria’s most traumatic epochs, Adichie’s novel affirms a different kind of historical ‘truth’–not the facile truth of facts, figures, and dates, but the deeper truth of throbbing, lived experience.”
–Fatin Abbas, The Nation

“The young Nigerian-born writer, who won prizes for Purple Hibiscus, should win more with her powerful second novel of Africa in turmoil. Adichie focuses on three characters involved in Biafra’s attempt to become an independent country in the late 1960s and the horrifying civil war with Nigeria that followed. This is [an] epic novel of dashed hopes and terrible consequences.”
–John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Are we ready for a novel about an imploding nation riven by religious strife and bloody wrangling over who controls the military, the civil service, the oil; a novel about looting, roadside bombs, killings and reprisal killings, set against a backdrop of meddling foreign powers? A novel in which once-colonized peoples chafe against the nonsensical national boundaries that bind them together, in which citizens abandoned on the highways of fear must choose between a volatile federation and the destabilizing partition? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel takes place not in the deserts of contemporary Iraq but in the forests of southeastern Nigeria–40 years ago, [before and during] the three-year Biafran War that saw Muslim-dominated forces from the north laying siege to the Christian Igbo of the south . . . At once historical and eerily current, Half of a Yellow Sun honors the memory of [that] war. Adichie’s prose thrums with life. Like Nadine Gordimer, she likes to position her characters at crossroads where public and private allegiances threaten to collide. Both Half of a Yellow Sun and Adichie’s first novel explore the gap between the public performances of male heroes and their private irresponsibilities. And both novels shrewdly observe the women–the wives, the daughters–left dangling over that chasm . . . . Adichie approaches her country’s past violence with a blend of distance and familial obsession. This tug of detachment and intimacy gives Half of a Yellow Sun an empathetic tone that never succumbs to simplifying impulses, heroic or demonic . . . . Reaching deep, [Half of a Yellow Sun] takes us inside ordinary lives laid waste by the all too ordinary unraveling of nation states. It speaks through history to our war-racked age not through abstract analogy but through the energy of vibrant detail, [and] a mastery of small things.”  
–Rob Nixon, The New York Times Book Review

“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, takes place in her native Nigeria during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when civil war erupted as the eastern state of Biafra attempted to break away and was then forced into submission . . . [Adichie] writes about these events with deep feeling and unflinching vividness . . . . [Half of a Yellow Sun] begins as a kind of social comedy and doesn’t darken until the war breaks out.”
–Charles McGrath, The New York Times

“A sweeping story that provides both a harrowing history lesson and an engagingly human narrative . . . Adichie shifts points of view among the central characters, keeping their stories always in the foreground. She also alternates between the pre-war and war years, wrapping the emerging political conflict in a rich and involving drama . . . Adichie puts a powerfully human face on this sobering story, which is far from over. Tensions in the former Biafra continue to simmer.”
–Mary Brennan, The Seattle Times

“A stealthy and subtle piece of work . . . destined to become a classic. What gives this book permanence is not just the story of the secession of southeastern Nigeria and the formation of the brief and brutally conquered state of Biafra (a conflict that claimed more than 1 million lives). It is not even the aptness of Adichie’s characters, each of whom represents an aspect of the nation and of the human psyche. What will keep this book on the shelves and in the classroom for years to come is simply Adichie’s storytelling, which like all really great writing, manages to be vivid and invisible at the same time . . . . The characters may scream, but the author never does, and so that scream echoes in our heads. It is the kind of sound that resonates in its silence, and it can only be created through a deft use of words and story. This book confirms the notion that if you want to understand a country’s soul, read its fiction.”
–Emily Carter Roiphe, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“As one reads Adichie’s lyrical descriptions, it becomes clear why she is recognized as a promising new voice in literature. From the opening page, the reader is transported to a world so strongly imaged as to feel like a painting.”
–Caroline Hallsworth, Library Journal

“Instantly enthralling . . . vivid . . . powerful . . . a major leap forward from [Adichie’s] impressive debut . . . Ms. Adichie weaves [her] characters into a finely wrought, inescapable web . . . She expands expertly and inexorably on early scenes [and] the many-faceted Half of a Yellow Sun soon develops a panoramic span. Taking its title from an emblem on the flag of Biafra, the book sustains an intimate focus and an epic backdrop. [But] Half of a Yellow Sun is not a conventional war story any more than is A Farewell to Arms or For Whom the Bell Tolls. (Though the Nigerian-born Ms. Adichie has been compared mostly to African writers, she warrants many different comparisons.) . . . .  Adichie is knowing about intimate, complicated interracial relationships [and] she artfully presents the jockeying between Richard [a British character] and a swaggering Nigerian military officer . . . The delicate balance among tribal groups, which breaks down as secession and war approach, is made especially clear . . . Ms. Adichie describes these tribal distinctions with a strong, graceful touch. Although there is nothing ostentatiously writerly about the straightforward style of Half of a Yellow Sun, Ms. Adichie can make a large, resonant gesture when need be.”
–Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Before Darfur, before Rwanda, there was Biafra. Adichie’s powerful second novel retells the shocking story of the ethnic cleansing and mass starvation in this breakaway territory of Nigeria in 1967–one of the first of Africa’s genocidal tragedies broadcast live in the West yet shamefully neglected there. A Nigerian, Adichie creates memorable characters torn between modern privilege and tribal ties . . . Masterfully, Adichie dissects their reactions as barbarism disrupts their bourgeois comfort and they struggle for survival.”
–Lee Aitken, People magazine (four stars)

“Ingenious . . . This superbly talented writer has tackled a broad, ambitious subject: the civil war that took place [in Nigeria] in the decade before her birth. Between her extensive readings and her family’s memories of these events, Adichie clearly has the background and understanding to write such a novel. What’s more, she has also found a way of engaging this large subject on the personal level by portraying it vividly and poignantly through the eyes of well-crafted characters . . . . Gentle, forbearing and sensitive, [the character] Olanna serves as a kind of touchstone throughout the novel. [Readers] will acutely feel her pain–along with her enduring capacity for compassion, indignation and love . . . . [Along] with making a powerful case against Britain’s bad stewardship [of Nigeria], Adichie’s novel also explores the depth and stubbornness of ethnic prejudices among Africans: not only Muslims versus Christians, but even among members of the same group who come from different classes, different villages, or even different families. Although Adichie sharply depicts the dreadful pettiness that’s all too often part of human nature, she never loses sight of our capacity to rise above such limitations. She deftly chronicles the wrenching experiences of her characters. [With] searching insight, compassion and an unexpected yet utterly appropriate touch of wit, Adichie has created an extraordinary book, a worthy addition to the world’s great tradition of large-visioned, powerfully realistic novels.”
–Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times

“Searing, beautifully written . . . What makes [Half of a Yellow Sun] so deeply compelling and involving are [Adichie’s] powers of empathy and imagination. She creates memorably distinctive characters and shows how the horrors of persecution, massacre, starvation and war affect their lives. Indeed, she tells the story by alternating among the views of the three characters whose different backgrounds and personalities provide a strong sense of the country’s diversity . . . . It is this kind of unflinching insight into her nation and its peoples that makes Half of a Yellow Sun a profoundly humanistic work of literature that bears comparison with the best fiction of Nigeria and, indeed, the entire African continent.” 
–Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle

“A young writer lives up to the hype with a buzzworthy new novel . . . Adichie masterfully illuminates the bloody 1967 Nigerian civil war, when Biafra attempted to form its own republic. Adichie’s stirring narrative gives us an intimate view of the battle’s impact . . . [She] hopes that Half of a Yellow Sun will do justice to the memory of those who perished in the civil war, and that it will also make her family proud. ‘I was afraid to fail them with this book,’ she confesses. Trust us, she doesn’t . . . . Get ready to hear and see the name Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.”

“Adichie surpasses her award-winning debut, Purple Hibiscus, with a magnificent novel in which the dreams and tragedies of 1960s Nigeria are filtered through the minds and experiences of stupendously compelling characters. From page 1, an unbreakable bond is forged between the reader and Ugwu, a teen who has left his barebones village to serve as houseboy to a radical professor full of hope for newly independent Nigeria . . . . The momentous psychological and ethical pressures Adichie engineers could support an engrossing novel in their own right, but her great subject is Nigeria’s horrific civil war, specifically the fate of Biafra, the doomed breakaway Igbo state. ‘Half of a yellow sun’ is Biafra’s emblem of hope, but the horrors and misery Adichie’s characters endure transform the promising image of a rising sun into that of a sun setting over a blood-soaked and starving land. Adichie has masterminded a commanding, sensitive epic about a vicious civil war that, for all its particular nightmares, parallels every war predicated by prejudice and stoked by outside powers hungry for oil and influence.”
–Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred, boxed review

“Absorbing . . . I couldn’t put the book down . . . Half of a Yellow Sun, the follow-up to the Orange-listed Purple Hibiscus, might have been written in the 19th century . . . . As she showed in Purple Hibiscus, Adichie’s big theme is the robustness of the human spirit . . . The characters are put through the emotional wringer . . . but though we know they’ve suffered lasting damage, we also know that in the long run they’ll be fine. [A] leap forward in the career of a very talented writer.”
–Stephen Thompson, The Scotsman

“An immense achievement . . . [Adichie] writes in the tradition of Nigeria’s great novelist [Chinua Achebe]. [But] nothing is falling apart for Adichie: everything is coming together. [Half of a Yellow Sun] has a ramshackle freedom and exuberant ambition . . . . Reading this novel is as close as you can get to the terrifying experience of being at war . . . . Yet the narrative remains warm and as full-figured as its curvy heroine, Olanna. No matter how dire the circumstances, censure is not Adichie’s thing. She leaves the judging to us . . . . She sees with a loving but undeceived eye . . . She has a sure satirical edge . . . . She never loses track of the personal. As well as freshly recreating this nightmarish chapter in her country’s history, she writes about the slow process by which love, if strong enough, may overcome. [In this novel, the] foreign becomes familiar, a distant war comes close, a particular story seems universal.”
The Observer (UK)

“A welcome addition to the corpus of African letters . . . . Adichie squarely confronts Nigeria’s political history in order to explode presumably stable notions such as nationalism, race, ethnic identity, truth, heroism and betrayal . . . . She [revisits] the theme of nationalist struggle in ways that are reminiscent of canonical African novels . . . . Half of a Yellow Sun strikes one as a fresh examination of the ravages of war [because] of Adichie’s poignant handling of human emotions, in a range of circumstances from romance to conflict.”
–Joyce W. Nyairo, Times Literary Supplement

“Brilliant . . . A stunning sophomore effort by an award-winning young Nigerian novelist [who] fashions a timeless memorial out of an ephemeral postcolonial conflict . . . It is hard to do justice to this book’s achievement. Anchoring the narrative in the doomed Biafran war of secession in 1960s Nigeria, Adichie entwines love and politics to a degree rarely achieved by novelists . . . [She] describes the whirl [of postcolonial chaos] with a generosity to her characters that seems handed down from Charles Dickens . . . . Novelists interested in history tend to depict their characters as the innocent victims of larger forces, the spindrift of impersonal waves. Adichie shows how history’s victims can also be the perpetrators of its excesses. The prose is admirable, but we’re not meant to admire it. We’re meant to stare through the glass until it disappears, for Adichie possesses a nineteenth-century confidence in the sufficiencies of traditional narrative, a belief that thrives today mostly in the literature of the former British colonies, whereby the straightforward rendering of lives in time yields historical weight and volume. As The Iliad came to displace the realities of the Trojan War . . . so shall Half of a Yellow Sun subsume the history upon which it is based. That is what great fiction does–it simultaneously devours and ennobles, and it is freely acknowledged invention comes to be truer than the facts upon which it is built.”
–Will Blythe, Elle Magazine

“Profoundly gripping . . .When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling civil war followed. That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner from Nigerian novelist Adichie . . . .Tumultuous politics power the plot, and several sections are harrowing. But this dramatic, intelligent epic has its lush and sultry side as well. This is a transcendent novel of many descriptive triumphs, most notably its depiction of the impact of war’s brutalities on peasants and intellectuals alike. It’s a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. Her experimentation with the dual mandate of English and Igbo in perennial discourse is a case in point. Timid and less competent writers would avoid the complication altogether, but Adichie embraces it because her story needs it. She is fearless, or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made.”
–Chinua Achebe

“Astonishing . . . fierce and beautifully written. Chimamanda continues to lead us from the front with her powerful new book. So much of the experience of our generation of Africans is about how we find ourselves reacting to our times based on wars and battles and events that we know little about, but which continue to define us. We need to take control of our history, so we can manage our present. And it is this idea that is the inspiration behind this novel . . . . Half of a Yellow Sun is honest and cutting, and always, always human, always loving . . . . It is a pleasure to read Chimamanda’s crisp, resonant prose. We see how every person’s belonging is contested in a new nation; find out that nobility of purpose has no currency in this contest; how powerfully we can love; how easily we can kill; how human we can be when a war dedicates itself to stripping our humanity from us. Half of a Yellow Sun is ambitious, impeccably researched . . . Penetrating . . . epic and confident. Adichie refuses to look away.”
 –Binyavanga Wainaina, author of Discovering Home, founder of the journal Kwani, and winner of The Caine Prize for African Writing

“This, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel, deserves to be nominated for the Booker prize. What is so memorable and accomplished about Half of a Yellow Sun is that political events are never dryly recited; rather they are felt through the medium of lived lives, of actual aching sensitive experiences. To my knowledge it is unusual for a young woman author to capture with such precision and verisimilitude the feelings of a man, but Ugwu is a totally realized character–ambitious, devoted, sexual, scholarly, courageous, uncomplaining, resourceful and intuitive. These characteristics, easy to rattle off, are all dramatized and substantiated in this long and intricate but always compelling narrative. When I think of how many European and American writers rehash the themes of suburban adultery or unhappy childhood, I look with awe and envy at this young woman from Africa who is recording the history of her country. She is fortunate–and we, her readers, are even luckier.”
–Edmund White

“Vividly written, thrumming with life, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel. In its compassionate intelligence, as in its capacity for intimate portraiture, this novel is a worthy successor to such twentieth-century classics as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River.
–Joyce Carol Oates


Anisfield-Wolf Book Award WINNER 2007

New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age WINNER

Orange Prize WINNER 2007

Hurston/Wright Legacy Award NOMINEE

National Book Critics Circle Awards FINALIST

Author Q&A

Q: What led you to write a book about the Nigeria-Biafra war?A: I wrote this novel because I wanted to write about love and war, because I lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war, because the war changed the cause of Igbo history, because “Biafra” is still an incredibly potent word in Nigeria today, because many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved, because my father has tears in his eyes when he speaks of losing his father, and my mother has never spoken at length about losing her father, because almost every Igbo person alive in the 1960s was affected by the pre-war massacres, because colonialism makes me angry, because the thought of the egos of organizations and men leading to the unnecessary deaths of children makes me angry, because I think we are in danger of forgetting. I have always been fascinated by Biafra. I have always wanted to write about it. It was not just because my parents told so many stories of how they lived through the Nigeria-Biafra war but because I realized how central Biafra was to my history. Because I grew up in the shadow of Biafra.Q: Given that, at the time of the war, you hadn’t yet been born, what sort of research did you do to prepare for writing this book? Was it important to you that you get all the “facts” of the war correct for this work of fiction?A: My parents’ stories formed the backbone of my research. And I read a lot of books about the war. I talked to a lot of people. In the four years that it took to finish the book, I would often ask older people I met, “Where were you in 1967?” and then take it from there. It was from stories of that sort that I found out tiny details that are important for fiction. As far as adhering to the facts, I invented a train station in Nsukka, invented a beach in Port Harcourt, changed the distance between towns, but it was important that I get the facts that mattered right. All the major political events in the book are “factually” correct. But what was most important to me was emotional truth. I wanted this to be a book about human beings, not a book about faceless political events. For research, I have a lot of research notes that I did not end up using because I did not want to be stifled by fact, did not want the political events to overwhelm the human story.Q: You say you think “we are in danger of forgetting.”Can you talk further about how the war is treated in Nigeria today?A: The war is still talked about, still a potent political issue. But I find that it is often talked about in uninformed and unimaginative ways–people repeat the same things they have heard and often don’t know the full story. It also remains–surprisingly–very ethnically divisive. The (brave enough) Igbo talk about it and the non-Igbo think the Igbo should get over it. There is a new movement called MASSOB, the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, which in the past few years has captured the imagination of many Igbo people. MASSOB is controversial; it is reported to advocate violence and its leaders are routinely arrested and harassed by the government. I am not exactly sure what the group stands for but I think that they have managed to capture the imagination of so many Igbo–no matter how inchoate their objectives–because there are a lot of unaddressed issues that the country may have officially swept aside but which continue to live in individual hearts.Q: The book focuses on the experiences of a small set of people who are seeing the conflict from very different points of view. When we step into their individual worlds, one at a time, we don’t learn their every thought–the narrator who follows them isn’t omniscient–but rather we have a partial, or selective, understanding of them. Can you describe your narrative style and why you framed these characters the way you did?A: I have always been suspicious of the omniscient narrative. It has never appealed to me, always seemed a little lazy and a little too easy. In an introduction to Giovanni Verga’s novel, it is said about his treatment of his characters that he “never lets them analyze their impulses but simply lets them be driven by them.” I wanted to write characters who are driven by impulses that they may not always be consciously aware of–which I think is true for us human beings. Besides, I didn’t want to bore my reader to death, exploring the characters’ every thought.Q: The character of Richard is a British white expatriate who considers himself Biafran, drawing a certain amount of criticism for his self-proclaimed identity. Another key narrator, Ugwu, is a thirteen-year-old houseboy who seems to react rather than act. Each is and interesting choice of character for the narrator to “shadow.” Why did you pick them?A: Ugwu was inspired in part by Mellitus, who was my parents’ houseboy during the war; in part by Fide, who was our houseboy when I was growing up. And I have always been interested in the less obvious narrators. When my mom spoke about Mellitus, what a blessing he was, how much he helped her, how she did not know what she would have done without him, I remember being moved but also thinking that he could not possibly have been the saint my mother painted, that he must have been flawed and human. And I do think that Ugwu does come to act more and react less as we watch him come into his own. Richard was a more difficult choice. I very much wanted somebody to be the Biafran “outsider” because I think that outsiders played a major role in the war but I wanted him, also, to be human and real (and needy!).Q: There is a conflict in this story between what is traditional and tribal versus that which is modern and bureaucratic. How has the conflict played itself out? What is the mix today? A: Cultures evolve and things change, of course. What is worrisome is not that we have all learned to think in English, but that our education devalues our culture, that we are not taught to write Igbo and that middle-class parents don’t much care that their children do not speak Igbo.Q: This is an exciting moment for Nigerian writers; who are some of your favorites, and why do you feel this worldwide resurgence in popularity for Nigerian writers is happening now?A: Tanure Ojaide writes beautifully. Sefi Atta has a delicious wit. Chris Abani is wonderfully astute. I didn’t know there was a worldwide popularity in Nigerian writers. I hope there will be.Q: What’s next for you?A: The next book, and graduate school in the African Studies program at Yale.

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