Book review: Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

One of our readers asked to share a book recommendation: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. You can find hereunder his summary and opinion about the novel, that plunges us into the short history of Biafra. Version française ici.


The Biafran War (1967-70), “brought Africa into Nixon’s American campaign and made every parent in the world say ‘finish your plate'” writes Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Half of a Yellow Sun (2007). Today, SPDS presents three good reasons to discover this little-known story.

Half of a Yellow Sun is above all an opportunity to meet a giant of which we know little or nothing: Nigeria, today the most populous country in Africa with its 212 million inhabitants. A former British colony, initially administered in two parts – the North, predominantly Muslim, and the South, historically mostly animist -, Nigeria was unified in 1914 by the governor Frederick Luggard (incidentally, a theorist of the indirect rule1 The concept of indirect rule advocated a colonial administration based on existing traditional structures, notably through indigenous chiefs. This practice of the British Colonial Office made it pragmatically possible to reduce the colonial presence necessary to administer the colonies, while ensuring the good collaboration of the local populations.) before becoming independent in 1960. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes us on a journey to Nigeria’s post-independence era, from the bustling metropolis of Lagos in the southwest to the intellectual Nsukka, a university town in the southeast; and the influential Kano, an ancient Hausa city-state in the north. Over the course of the pages, the reader thus discovers Nigeria, its particularities and its ethnic differences, in a country that would not have been one (but probably several) without colonization. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, herself a native of the South-East, decides to link us to the destiny of the Igbos, one of the three main Nigerian ethnic groups, who, feeling stigmatized, decided to proclaim their independence in 1967 under the name of Republic of Biafra. This was the beginning of a disastrous conflict that lasted until 19702Biafra eventually laid down its weapons, surrounded by Nigerian forces. , leaving 100,000 people dead in the fighting and between 500,000 and 2 million in the ensuing famine.

Reading Half of a Yellow Sun is also an opportunity to immerse oneself in the distressing reality of a civil war. While the tragedy of war is shattering the lives of millions of Ukrainians today, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel takes the reader into a similar experience of suffering, at the heart of a besieged region, Biafra, bombed on a daily basis and subjected to an economic blockade. The asphyxiating story unfolds the mechanisms of a civil conflict: the general mobilization of the Igbo men, the propaganda promising the young republic a final victory despite the successive defeats, and the incomprehension towards the international community’s support, which was considered too weak. Thanks to her research on the Biafran secession and the testimonies she collected, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brilliantly depicts what the daily life of war means for a civilian population, between deprivation, life in refugee camps, fear of the death of loved ones…

Finally, Half of a Yellow Sun is worth reading for the quality of its author’s story, awarded the prestigious Orange Prize in 2007. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes us into the intimacy of varied and touching characters: Olanna, a young woman from the Lagos bourgeoisie who studied in England; Odenigbo, an idealistic pan-Africanist intellectual; Ugwu, her boy, a simple villager amazed by his master’s culture; Kainene, Olanna’s twin sister and a sarcastic businesswoman; and Richard, an Englishman who has fallen in love with the local culture. Their lives are an opportunity for the writer to explore cross-cutting themes: family, love, the relationship between modernity and tradition, the relationship with the other, with Whites, with Westerners.

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