Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was published in 2006.
I really struggled with this book… I would love to recommend it but quite honestly this book left me disturbed and wishing I had not read it(I hardly ever feel like that). Plenty of my book group did really enjoy this book, I must say- so I’m sure some others will enjoy it. The setting of the novel is Nigerian during the turbulent Biafran conflict of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Before reading this book I was unfamiliar with the parties involved in this terribly violent war.
Adichie writes in an engaging style- particularly enjoyable are her female characters. Olanna is a successful University professor who comes from a wealthy family- her acute struggles with infertility and coping with her husbands infidelity alongside strained relationships with her twin sister and her privileged aristocratic family are brought to life in a very realistic manner through the authors skilful writing. The barren landscape of the hot and dry Lagos outskirts mirror the desolate inner life of Olanna and her political activist husband Odenigbo. The other extremely likeable female protagonist is Kainene- Olanna’s twin sister and polar opposite. I immensely enjoyed the peaks and troughs of their sisterly relationship- the incredible bond these sisters shared is heart warming.
Everyday life for the characters in this novel are extremely difficult- there are persistent problems with disease, drought and extreme issues with regard to personal safety. I found some of the detailed descriptions of a violent rape and also a brutal attack where a pregnant women is murdered exceedingly difficult. Perhaps this is the mark of a great novel….a book which makes you thing- makes you grateful for living in another time and another place. I don’t know- perhaps it is a reflection on my own character that I prefer to not be challenged to think about such atrocities- I am reminded of how angry I was when a dear elderly family member informed me that she refused to see the movie Schindler’s List- my response? Incredible anger…. I felt offended that she choose to not watch the film…In retrospect I often think about these feelings and examine why did I feel so angry? Was that justified? It did not harm me or anyone else that she felt unable to cope with the difficult subject matter of the film…or did it? By choosing to NOT view a film/read a book/listen to a radio broadcast are we harming only ourselves? Or are we allowing our society to be sucked into a culture of Denial?