Half of a Yellow Sun
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Anchor Books, New York
Reviewer: D. Mwesigye Gumisiriza
This is a story of the Nigeria-Biafran War (1967-1970) told through the experiences of the main characters—before, during and after the war. A large part of it is narrated from the perspective of Ugukwu, who is a houseboy to Odenigbo, a lecturer at the University of Nsukka whom he often refers to as ‘Master’. And it is from Ugukwu that we get insights into the life and character of his Master, his relationship with university colleagues during their regular intellectual debates in his sitting room, his fiancée Olanna who returns from studies in the United Kingdom to stay with him, his beliefs and convictions as regards national [Nigerian] and international issues, among others. Ugukwu, being from a rural background, also shows how the modern and traditional in many aspects of life in an African country, such as Nigeria, are inter-linked through his observations and interactions with this ‘elite society’ at the university.
Other characters central to the story are Kainene, Olanna’s twin sister, and her British boyfriend, Richard. Kainene and Olanna are from a very rich and well-connected family but are very different in physical appearance, character and outlook. Richard, on the other hand, comes to Nigeria from Britain looking for inspiration to write a book. He is attached to the expatriate community but never quite fits in until he falls in love with Kainene. He then embarks on a journey of self-discovery as he integrates and begins to understand the country, the people and their way of life.
The advent of the secessionist war changes their lives fundamentally and how they view the world about them. As they adjust to the realities of war and its toll on them greatly contributes to the way they interact with each other afterwards.
The author uses several publications on the Biafran-Nigeria War and personal accounts from people who experienced it to create the backdrop to this compelling story. It is not the war per se that is the focus but the humanity of the people that emerges amidst life-changing situations. She uses a great dose of symbolisms to drive her point home as exemplified by the title which is taken from the emblem by the breakaway Biafra territory.