Review–Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Summary: In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. And Richard, a shy English writer, is in thrall to Olanna's enigmatic twin sister. As the horrific Biafran War engulfs them, they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a novel about Africa in a wider sense: about the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race - and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

Source: I purchased a paperback.

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This book came highly recommended by an employee at Barnes and Noble, so I ordered it and and thought it would make a great gift for my grandmother, who reads a lot of literary works like this one. We trade books through the mail, so I thought I’d read it myself before sending it on because I thought it would be absolutely amazing.There were many aspects of the novel that I enjoyed. Overall, I was told a story about events I knew next to nothing about and it was told in a beautiful way. Unfortunately, the story fell flat for me and it wasn’t as good as I expected and it didn’t stay with me at all when I finished.

I felt unsympathetic to the characters. I was enchanted by Ugwu at first and I saw promise in some of the other characters, but as the story went on, I noticed that nothing really changed. The characters remained basically the same throughout the novel and I found it difficult to remain invested in their stories. Had they seemed more realistic and multi-dimensional, the events of the Biafran War and their effect on the characters would have been more hard hitting and interesting to me. I felt like drama between characters was better explained and developed than the war itself. I knew the war was affecting the characters and changing their behavior and impacting them as people, but I honestly felt like it wasn’t well executed. Ugwu was the most changed, but his childlike narrative never seemed any different, so the outward changes weren’t as well developed.

I admit my own ignorance regarding the war and the events in Nigeria during this time. I was not alive then and it wasn’t something we’ve ever learned about in school. I don’t expect a novel to teach me everything I’d ever need to know about events I’m unschooled about, but as a major fiction reader and a reader of fantasy and science fiction (where there are nothing but wars and events I’ve never heard of before since they never existed), I suppose I expect the story to do a little bit of explaining beforehand so that the real impact of the war hits me like it is supposed to. Half of a Yellow Sun is the kind of story that would be a great dessert once you’ve digested the meal of facts and history about the war. If you already knew most of the details and you knew about the tensions in Africa and, more specifically, Nigeria at the time, then this novel would be extremely effective.

Because of the flat characters who remained mostly static throughout the novel and my lack of previous knowledge of the events of the novel, I was left trying to drum up sympathy and understanding for characters I didn’t connect with about events I didn’t feel I’ve truly comprehended when it was all over. The author failed me in two ways. She didn’t give me characters I was invested in or a story that was developed enough to create the impact of the war that should hit hard and stay with me long afterwards. I felt like the author should have not written with the assumption that her audience was versed in African politics.

It was a beautifully written novel, however, so it was enjoyable to read for the most part. I only wish that I was more able to connect with and relate to the characters and fully grasp the effects of war. I only recommend it if you have some previous knowledge about the Nigerian/Biafran conflict.


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