Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Book Review: Muhammad Nasrullah Khan
This book confirms Garcia Marquez's statement: "Writers are the worst enemies of politicians.”
Half of a Yellow Sun is a powerful historical fiction story about the Nigerian Civil War written in heartbreaking prose. It begins with Ugwu coming into the story, a simple village boy who is hired as a houseboy for a university professor named Odenigbo.
I am sure you'll love all the characters and the realistic way the story unfolds. The perspective of devastating war beautifully illustrates all these characters. This book is remarkable for its "show, don't tell" approach that deciphers bit by bit as you read. As an illustration of the "show, don't tell" method, here is an excerpt:
“Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair. Ugwu’s aunty said this in a low voice as they walked on the path. “But he is a good man,” she added. “And as long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day.” She stopped to spit; the saliva left her mouth with a sucking sound and landed on the grass.
Ugwu did not believe that anybody, not even this master he was going to live with, ate meat every day. He did not disagree with his aunty, though, because he was too choked with expectation, too busy imagining his new life away from the village. They had been walking for a while now, since they got off the lorry at the motor park, and the afternoon sun burned the back of his neck. But he did not mind. He was prepared to walk hours more in even hotter sun. He had never seen anything like the streets that appeared after they went past the university gates, streets so smooth and tarred that he itched to lay his cheek down on them. He would never be able to describe to his sister Anulika how the bungalows here were painted the color of the sky and sat side by side like polite well-dressed men, how the hedges separating them were trimmed so flat on top that they looked like tables wrapped with leaves.”
As part my mission to bring awareness to a greater literary work, HALF OF A YELLOW SUN serves as a polite reminder of the wonderful cultures and unique viewpoints out there. Odenigbo says: “‘… the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe… I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.” There were three groups at work in the book: the Igbo, the Muslims, and the "marauding Europeans." In terms of politics, the book revolves around tensions between the Igbo, the Muslims, and the "marauding Europeans."
As Ugwu explores his new home, we see a whole new world for ourselves. In addition, there are many allusions and phrases in this book that are not in English.
Here are few wonderful excerpts from this book:
“He is very careful now, since he realized that I am no longer afraid. I’ve told him that if he brings disgrace to me in any way, I will cut off that snake between his legs.”
“Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.”
“She was used to this, being grabbed by men who walked around in a cloud of cologne-drenched entitlement, with the presumption that, because they were powerful and found her beautiful, they belonged together.
“…my point is that the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe…I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.”
“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”
“Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.”
“He was making her feel small and absurdly petulant and, worse yet, she suspected he was right. She always suspected he was right. For a brief irrational moment, she wished she could walk away from him. Then she wished, more rationally, that she could love him without needing him. Need gave him power without his trying; need was the choicelessness she often felt around him.”
“Yes, good. There’s something very lazy about the way you have loved him blindly for so long without ever criticizing him. You’ve never even accepted that the man is ugly,” Kainene said. There was a small smile on her face and then she was laughing, and Olanna could not help but laugh too, because it was not what she had wanted to hear and because hearing it had made her feel better.”
“She felt bitter toward them at first, because when she tried to talk about the things she had left behind in Nsukka — her books, her piano, her clothes, her china, her wigs, her Singer sewing machine, the television — they ignored her and started to talk about something else. Now she understood that nobody talked about the things left behind”
“Ugwu had saved them, the same way he saved old sugar cartons, bottle corks, even yam peels. It came with never having had much, she knew, the inability to let go of things, even things that were useless. So when she was in the kitchen with him, she talked about the need to keep only things that were useful, and she hoped he would not ask her how the fresh flowers, then, were useful.”
“Before he fell asleep, Molière’s words came to him, strangely comforting: Unbroken happiness is a bore; it should have ups and downs."
“He pulled her to him, and for a while Olanna did nothing, her body limp against his. She was used to this, being grabbed by men who walked around in a cloud of cologne-drenched entitlement, with the presumption that, because they were powerful and found her beautiful, they belonged together.”
“Into my heart on air that kill
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills."
“But she was upset, and made even more so by Odenigbo’s expression, as if he could not believe she was not quite as high-minded as he had thought. He was making her feel small and absurdly petulant and, worse yet, she suspected he was right. She always suspected he was right. For a brief irrational moment, she wished she could walk away from him. Then she wished, more rationally, that she could love him without needing him. Need gave him power without his trying; need was the choicelessness she often felt around him.”