Friday 4 November 2016

Half of a Yellow Sun

I finished reading Half of a Yellow Sun yesterday. It's the first of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novels I've actually read, despite being a huge fan of her TED talk on The Dangers of a Single Story (which I show in my fiction class), and her outstanding talk on feminism.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a sweeping epic about the Biafran war:

With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra's impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.

I recently mentioned how much I admired Lawrence Hill's ability to tell his story convincingly from a woman's perspective. I particularly enjoyed Adichie's portrayal of Richard, a white British man. I think I enjoy it when authors do this level of role shift so well, because it flies in the face of today's mainstream media - the us and them attitude. The divisiveness. It proves that people are capable of extreme empathy across race, gender, culture. If we wish to understand, we can do so. Authors skillfully assist us in achieving that understanding, but if they can do it, so can we all?

A very interesting novel. I've learned, and retained, far more information about the Biafran war through fiction than I probably would have from a newspaper article. The power of fiction is to bring events alive, to trick our brains into living other people's dreamings. Because of this, we hold onto those places more as memories than dry fact.

The novel was turned into a film in 2013, though one tweeter pointed out the strange issue of the African trope. I'd like to add to this the covers for The Other Hand and A Woman of Africa.

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