Half of a Yellow Sun is a novel by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Published in 2006 by Knopf/Anchor, it tells the story of the Biafran War through the perspective of the characters Olanna, Ugwu, and Richard.
The novel takes place in Nigeria partly during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). The effect of the war is shown through the dynamic relationships of three people’s lives ranging from high-ranking political figures, a professor, a British citizen, and a houseboy. After the British left Nigeria, the lives of the main characters drastically changed and were torn apart by the ensuing civil war and decisions in their personal life. The book jumps between events that took place during the early 1960s and the late 1960s, when the war took place. In the early 1960s, the main characters are introduced: Ugwu, a 13-year-old village boy who moves in with Odenigbo, to work as his houseboy. Odenigbo frequently entertains intellectuals to discuss the political turmoil in Nigeria. Life changes for Ugwu when Odenigbo’s girlfriend, Olanna, moves in with them. Ugwu forms a strong bond with both of them, and is very loyal. Olanna has a twin sister, Kainene, a woman with a dry sense of humour, tired by the pompous company she is forced to keep. Her lover Richard is an Englishman who has come to Nigeria to study the arts. Jumping four years ahead, trouble is brewing between the Hausa and the Igbo people and hundreds of people die in the massacres, including Olanna’s beloved auntie and uncle. A new republic,called Biafra, is created by the Igbo. As a result of the conflict, Olanna, Odenigbo, their daughter Baby and Ugwu are forced to flee Nsukka, which is the university town and the major intellectual hub of the new nation. They finally end up in the refugee town of Umuahia, where they suffer as a result of food shortages and the constant air raids and paranoid atmosphere. There are also allusions to a conflict between Olanna and Kainene, Richard and Kainene and Olanna and Odenigbo. When the novel jumps back to the early 1960s, we learn that Odenigbo slept with a village girl, who then had his baby. Olanna is furious at his betrayal, and sleeps with Richard in a moment of weakness. She goes back to Odenigbo and they take in his daughter, whom they call Baby, when her mother refuses her. Back during the war, and Olanna, Odenigbo, Baby and Ugwu are living with Kainene and Richard where Kainene is running a refugee camp. The situation is hopeless as they have no food or medicine. Kainene decides to trade across enemy lines, but does not return, even after the end of the war a few weeks later. The book ends ambiguously, with the reader not knowing if Kainene lives.
The novel and the war
The Nigerian Civil War (or the “Nigerian-Biafran War”) was started on 6 July 1967 and ended on 13 January 1970. The war broke out due to political and ethnic struggles, partly caused by the numerous attempts of the southeastern provinces of Nigeria to secede and form the Republic of Biafra. Political conflict between the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani people erupted into two deadly military coups. The Igbo tried to breakaway from Nigeria to become the Republic of Biafra, but was met with little support. From 1968 onward, the war fell into a form of deadlock, with Nigerian forces unable to make significant advances into the remaining areas of Biafran control. Nigeria cut off humanitarian aid to Biafra, resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilians dying from starvation and disease. Many lives and resources were lost during the war; and even today there are still tensions between the different ethnic and religious groups of Nigeria. The story in Half of a Yellow Sun centres on the war. The author has stated she believes that many of the issues that caused the war remain today. She further commented that the war is talked about “in uninformed and unimaginative ways”, and that the war is as important to the Igbo people her book features today as it was then. Because none of the major political events were changed in the book, Adichie said that the book contained “emotional truth”, and that the book showed the war had a significant impact upon the people of Nigeria.
Half of a Yellow Sun received the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. The award is given annually for the best original full-length novel written by a woman in English; Adichie’s prize amounted to £30 000. Purple Hibiscus, her first novel, made the Orange Prize shortlist in 2004. The novel was well received by critics and included in the New York Times’s “100 Most Notable Books of the Year”. In a review for The Seattle Times, Mary Brennan highlights the book as “a sweeping story that provides both a harrowing history lesson and an engagingly human narrative”. The Observer’s Kate Kellaway wrote: “An immense achievement, Half of a Yellow Sun has a ramshackle freedom and exuberant ambition.” The New York Times had a more mixed reflection of the book, noting that “at times Adichie’s writing is too straightforward, the novel’s pace too slack” but also that “whenever she touches on her favorite themes — loyalty and betrayal — her prose thrums with life.” Aïssatou Sidimé from San Antonio Express-News praised Adichie’s writing in the book, writing that “alluring and revelatory, eloquent, prize-winning Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is quickly proving herself to be fearless in the tradition of the great African writers.” Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe commented: “We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers,” and said about Adichie: “She is fearless, or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war.”
Main article: Half of a Yellow Sun (film) In 2008, a film adaptation was announced, with a screenplay to be written by playwright Biyi Bandele.The film premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in late 2013, and is set for worldwide release in 2014. The film stars Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and BAFTA Award Winner Thandie Newton.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (29 October 2010). Half of a Yellow Sun. Knopf Canada. ISBN 978-0-307-37354-0.