Sunday, November 1, 2015

Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Family and friends struggle through the Biafran war

Wealthy western educated twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, and their partners, Odenigbo and Richard, join the infant state of Biafra, formed by the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria after an ethnic massacre. But things don’t go so well after civil war erupts and Nigeria blocks food shipments across the border. The four of them, along with sensitive houseboy Ugwu, must bid farewell to their affluent lifestyle and come to grips with war and privation.

This reminded me a little of War and Peace: the happy life, the transforming upheaval of war, the heroism found in unlikely places. The ambition and the quiet artistry. Adichie is a great storyteller – the tale moves right along, although the different time frames of the story confused me at first. She does a good job of tightening the noose, making the reader dread what will happen next and be unable to turn away. It’s historical fiction, but it’s also about the folly of the human heart and how easily things spin out of control.

The center of the story is Olanna, the beautiful twin, lover of the charismatic profession Odenigbo and sister to severe silent Kainene. Kainene doesn’t seem completely fully developed, that’s why it’s a little hard to figure out why anxious Brit Richard is so in love with her. The use of food to illustrate how far these Igbo professors have fallen works really well: the descriptions of elaborate dinner parties in the first part of the book, coupled with the meals of roasted insects and lizards in the last part of the book.

At times, because of the subject matter, that is, the bombing of starving children and the way the world ignored it, the book grew excruciating to read.  Americanah was more relaxed, messier and more fun. This was formal and deadly serious.

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