Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie This is "based on the Nigerian-Biafran War of 1967 to 1970"--and on the stories of the author's parents among others. The title comes from one of the symbols of the Biafran flag, a half of a yellow sun that "stood for the glorious future." Biafra split off from Nigeria because of the persecution of the Igbo people of the region. It may be one reason I connected with the novel--I wasn't disoriented because someone I had been close to when I was young was an Igbo (she spelled it "Ibo") and I heard from her about the short-lived Biafran nation and her tart take on the other Nigerian tribes--Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa... Tribal diversions exacerbated by religious divisions--Igbos being largely Christian, Yorubas and Hausas Muslim. My friend told me, rather proudly, that the Igbos were known as the "Jews of Nigeria"--entrepreneurial, ambitious, highly valuing education, and considered "uppity" by their fellow Nigerians--and persecuted by them. So I had to smile when I read this tidbit: "Socialism would never work for the Igbo... Oybenjealu is a common name for girls and you know what it means? 'Not to Be Married by a Poor Man.' To stamp that on a child at birth is capitalism at its best." So yes, this was interesting as a portrait of a culture, of the political currents of the late sixties, of war. But that doesn't get a book five stars with me. It got that because above all it gave me characters I cared about and even minor figures were written with complexity, nuance and insight. The story is primarily told through three characters: Ugwu, a houseboy from a rural village who works for a professor, Odenigbo, with revolutionary principles; Olanna, Odenigbo's lover, and Richard, an English expatriot who loves Olanna's twin sister Kainene. I liked Ugwu, Olanna and Richard--although my liking dipped and rose throughout the story, and at times I felt frustrated with each of them--but the way you would be with a friend you want to shake some sense to--they never lost my overall sympathy. For the first hundred pages Adichie absorbs you into their world and hopes in peace time and lets you get to know them. After that? Well, after that is the Biafran War and it's all the more harrowing for allowing us into their lives before those terrible times. Parts of this novel were heart-breaking and hard to take--very dark. So be prepared and don't expect a light, fluffy read. But a rich one? Yes.