Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
She did it again. And she did it (again) masterfully! (click to read my review for her debut: Purple Hibiscus) While reading this novel I was often thinking of García Márquez’s words: ”The worst enemy of politicians is a writer” and I would amplify that with not only of politicians. Now, I’m not sure if Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has had intention to accuse (probably not) but you cannot avoid truth and, as always truth is hurting so badly.
Heartbreaking Half of a Yellow Sun (related with Biafran flag) is a story about birth and short life of Biafra, life that ended in one of the worst possible way while “the world was silent when they died”. Before reading this book I didn’t know much about Biafra, I didn’t even know it was an independent country (*blush* I should know that!). For me Biafra was a synonym for starvation, for hunger, misery, I was always picturing children with huge bellies and limbs like toothpicks. Now I know the word for that: ”kwashiorkor”, difficult word isn’t it?
Everything started 1960 when Nigeria independence from British colonialism; few years later there was a coup d’état led by Igbo tribe. Since Nigeria was the country with many clans ethnic tension started to sparkle between Muslim Hausa and Christian Igbo clans and eventually resulted with ethnic cleansing of Igbos that were living in the north of the country with Muslim majority. Because of that atrocity Igbo clan has proclaimed independence of theirs own country named after Biafran Bay in the southeast of Nigeria (the problem was, as one of the characters said was the fact that Biafra has huge oil reserves). Few countries have recognized new country, however the most powerful ones (i.e. United Kingdom and Soviet Union) supported Nigeria with military supplies and after three years (1967-1970) the war of Biafra secession ended in a humanitarian catastrophe as Nigerian blockades stopped all supplies, military and civilian alike, from entering the region. Hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) people died in the resulting famine.
The story has been told through the lives of three very different characters:
Ugwu,13 year old boy from some remote village who is starting to work as a houseboy in the house of university professor with revolutionary aspirations. Ugwu is a magnificent source of Nigerian (African?) folklore and mythology. His superstitious-ness is beautiful, pure and incredibly authentic. Being uneducated his provincialism and thinking of everything authentically African as inferior comparing with everything British is very strong! (I sound as if I’m justifying his attitude with that “being uneducated”, well it’s really hard dislike Ugwu)
Olanna, young women with university diploma from London, member of Nigerian aristocracy who rejected privileged life and follow her heart. Strong, modern, enthusiastic woman with strong vision of her future life liberated from the chains of her family’s expectations.
Third one is Richard, man I identified myself with. He’s an Englishman who came in Nigeria because he fell in love with the ancient piece of local art (I think I could do the same). Man who being white has had to put much more effort to prove himself as true Biafran and was doing this in the best possible way.
What I especially like is that all three main characters are real humans; they are not flawless. On the contrary, they are making horrible mistakes which might be even unforgivable under different circumstances.
But this is not only story about the war. War with its horror is scenery for the story of love, loyalty, friendship, betrayal, forgiveness about fight and survival. It is very universal story placed in one precise historical context.
Truth, some of the scenes are so graphically described that I had to close the book and take a deep breath before continue. But of course why should she use euphemism for truth? In spite that this is really page turner. I was little afraid after warning from the back cover “I wasted last fifty pages, reading them far too greedily and fast, because I couldn’t bear to let go…” but I’ve done the same (and of course then reread them). This is one testimony of the things that mustn’t be forgotten! And oh, don’t be surprised if you find your eyes filled with tears. In spite the fact that last sentence wasn’t surprise for me, that I expected that, I couldn’t help myself…