Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is from Abba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka where she attended primary and secondary schools and briefly studied Medicine and Pharmacy. She then moved to the United States to attend college, graduating summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State with a major in Communication and a minor in Political Science. She holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and a Masters degree in African Studies from Yale.
Purple Hibiscus won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was also short-listed for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and long-listed for the Booker Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in Granta, Prospect, and The Iowa Review among other literary journals, and she received an O. Henry Prize in 2003. She was a 2005-2006 Hodder Fellow at Princeton, where she taught Introductory Fiction. She divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
A masterly, haunting new novel from a writer heralded by The Washington Post Book World as “the 21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe,” Half of a Yellow Sun recreates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria, and the chilling violence that followed.
With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor’s beautiful mistress, who has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. And Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s twin sister, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and they must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.
Epic, ambitious, and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race—and the ways in which love can complicate them all.
Both my grandfathers were interesting men, both born in the early 1900s in British-controlled Igbo land, both determined to educate their children, both with a keen sense of humor, both proud. I know this from stories I have been told. Eight years before I was born, they died in Biafra as refugees after fleeing hometowns that had fallen to federal troops. I grew up in the shadow of Biafra. I grew up hearing ‘before the war’ and ‘after the war’ stories; it was as if the war had somehow divided the memories of my family. I have always wanted to write about Biafra—not only to honor my grandfathers, but also to honor the collective memory of an entire nation. Writing Half of a Yellow Sun has been my re-imagining of something I did not experience but whose legacy I carry. It is also, I hope, my tribute to love: the unreasonable, resilient thing that holds people together and makes us human.
Q & A with the Author
Q: What led you to write a book about the Nigeria-Biafra war?
I wrote this novel because I wanted to write about love and war, because I grew up in the shadow of Biafra, because I lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war, because I wanted to engage with my history in order to make sense of my present, many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved in Nigeria today, because my father has tears in his eyes when he speaks of losing his father, because my mother still cannot speak at length about losing her father in a refugee camp, because the brutal bequests of colonialism make me angry, because the thought of the egos and indifference of men leading to the unnecessary deaths of men and women and children enrages me, because I don’t ever want to forget. I have always known that I would write a novel about Biafra. At 16, I wrote an awfully melodramatic play called For Love of Biafra. Years later, I wrote short stories, That Harmattan Morning, Half of a Yellow Sun and Ghosts, all dealing with the war. I felt that I had to approach the subject with little steps, paint on a smaller canvas first, before starting the novel.
Q: Given that, at the time of the war, you hadn’t yet been born, what sort of research did you do to prepare for writing this book?
I read books. I looked at photos. I talked to people. In the four years that it took to finish the book, I would often ask older people I met, “Where were you in 1967?” and then take it from there. It was from stories of that sort that I found out tiny details that are important for fiction. My parents’ stories formed the backbone of my research. Still, I have a lot of research notes that I did not end up using because I did not want to be stifled by fact, did not want the political events to overwhelm the human story.
Q: Was it important to you that you get all the “facts” of the war correct for this work of fiction?
I invented a train station in Nsukka, invented a beach in Port Harcourt, changed the distance between towns, changed the chronology of conquered cities but I did not invent any of the major events. It was important that I get the facts that mattered right. All the major political events in the book are ‘factually’ correct. But what was most important to me, in the end, was emotional truth. I wanted this to be a book about human beings, not a book about faceless political events.
Q: Are memories of the Nigeria-Biafra war still alive in Nigeria, talked about on a regular basis, or do you feel that the conflict is being lost to history as time passes and that it becomes less important to Igbo culture?
The war is still talked about, still a potent political issue. But I find that it is mostly talked about in uninformed and unimaginative ways. People repeat the same things they have been told without having a full grasp of the complex nature of the war or they hold militant positions lacking in nuance. It also remains, to my surprise, very ethnically divisive: the (brave enough) Igbo talk about it and the non-Igbo think the Igbo should get over it. There is a new movement called MASSOB, the movement for the actualization of the sovereign state of Biafra, which in the past few years has captured the imagination of many Igbo people. MASSOB is controversial; it is reported to engage in violence and its leaders are routinely arrested and harassed by the government. Still, despite their inchoate objectives, MASSOB’s grassroots support continues to grow. I think this is because they give a voice to many issues that have been officially swept aside by the country but which continue to resonate for many Igbo people.
Q: The book focuses on the experiences of a small set of people who are experiencing the conflict from very different points of view. When we step into their individual worlds, we don’t exactly know their every thought—the narrator who follows them isn’t omniscient—but rather we seem to see and understand them through a film. Can you describe your narrative style and why you framed these characters the way you did?
I actually don’t think of them as being seen through a ‘film.’ I have always been suspicious of the omniscient narrative. It has never appealed to me, always seemed a little lazy and a little too easy. In an introduction to the brilliant Italian writer Giovanni Verga’s novel, it is said about his treatment of his characters that he ‘never lets them analyze their impulses but simply lets them be driven by them.’ I wanted to write characters who are driven by impulses that they may not always be consciously aware of, which I think is true for us human beings. Besides, I didn’t want to bore my reader—and myself—to death, exploring the characters’ every thought.
Q: The character of Richard is a British white expatriate who considers himself Biafran, drawing a certain amount of quiet—and some loud—criticism for his self-proclaimed identity. Another key narrator, Ugwu, is a thirteen-year-old houseboy who reacts rather than acts. Both are interesting choices for characters for the narrator to “shadow.” Why did you pick them?
Ugwu was inspired in part by Mellitus, who was my parents’ houseboy during the war; in part by Fide, who was our houseboy when I was growing up. And I have always been interested in the less obvious narrators. When my mom spoke about Mellitus, what a blessing he was, how much he helped her, how she did not know what she would have done without him, I remember being moved but also thinking that he could not possibly have been the saint my mother painted, that he must have been flawed and human. I think that Ugwu does come to act more and react less as we watch him come into his own. Richard was a more difficult choice. I very much wanted somebody to be the Biafran ‘outsider’ because I think that outsiders played a major role in the war but I wanted him, also, to be human and real (and needy!)
Q: Are there other characters based on real people?
‘Harrison’ is based on a real Harrison who lived with my family until very recently. What the character does with beets is, in fact, what the real Harrison told me he did during the war.
Q: There is a conflict in this story between what is traditional and tribal versus that which is modern and bureaucratic. What is the mix today? How worrisome is it that some of the tribal ways have been lost?
Cultures evolve and things change, of course. What is worrisome is not that we have all learned to think in English, but that our education devalues our culture, that we are not taught to write Igbo and that middle-class parents don’t much care that their children do not speak their native languages or have a sense of their history.
Q: We see snippets of a book written by a character in Half of a Yellow Sun—it is an account of the conflict depicted in Half of a Yellow Sun, written after the fact. Its authorship may come as a surprise to some at the end of the story. What effect did you want this book within a book to have on Half of a Yellow Sun?
I wanted a device to anchor the reader who may not necessarily know the basics of Nigerian history. And I wanted to make a strongly-felt political point about who should be writing the stories of Africa.
Q: What is next for you in your career (or careers, as the case may be!)?
The next book. And I’ve just started graduate work in the African Studies program at Yale.
Q: You must have come across many books on Biafra. Are there any you would recommend in particular?
Surviving in Biafra by Alfred Obiora Uzokwe is a marvelous memoir of war seen through the eyes of a young boy. Chinua Achebe’s Girls at War contains three sublime Biafran stories. Adewale Ademoyega’s Why We Struck is a fiercely ideological look at the events that led to the war. A Tragedy Without Heroes by Hilary Njoku and The Nigerian Revolution and the Biafran War by Alexander Madiebo are fascinating personal accounts from top-ranking Biafran Army officers. The writing in Ntieyong Akpan’s The Struggle for Secession has a formal beauty and he presents—inadvertently, I suspect—a complex, flawed and sympathetic portrait of the Biafran leader. Wole Soyinka was imprisoned during the war and records this period in his magisterial memoir The Man Died. George Obiozor’s The United States and the Nigerian Civil War: An American dilemma in Africa is informative albeit brief and has an interesting forward by Walter Ofonagoro. Herbert Gold’s stark account of his visit to Biafra, Biafra Goodbye, moved me to tears. The Biafran War: Nigeria and the Aftermath by Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is a concise and clear-eyed look at the conflict. Chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset at Dawn and Flora Nwapa’s Never Again are novels that convincingly portray middle-class Biafra. John De St Jorre’s The Nigerian Civil War presents an excellent view of Biafra from the outside. And Sunset in Biafra, the bitter and beautifully-written memoir by Elechi Amadi, looks at the war from the point of view of an anti-Biafran minority.
“We do not usually associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie knows what is at stake, and what to do about it. She is fearless, or she would not have taken on the intimidating horror of Nigeria’s civil war. Adichie came almost fully made.”
— Chinua Achebe
“It is hard to do brief justice to this book’s achievement. Anchoring the narrative in the doomed Biafran war of secession in 1960s Nigeria, Adichie entwines love and politics to a degree rarely achieved by novelists, who usually focus on one or the other. Where V. S. Naipaul has written with a poison pen of postcolonial chaos, Adichie describes the whirl with a generosity to her characters that seems handed down from Charles Dickens. Though compassionate, she’s no fool…Novelists interested in history tend to depict their characters as the innocent victims of larger forces, the spindrift of impersonal waves. Adichie shows how history’s victims can also be the perpetrators of its excesses. The prose is admirable, but we’re not meant to admire it. We’re meant to stare through the glass until it disappears, for Adichie possesses a nineteenth-century confidence in the sufficiencies of traditional narrative… As The Iliad came to displace the realities of the Trojan War, whatever they may have been, so shall Half of a Yellow Sun subsume the history upon which it is based. That is what great fiction does—it simultaneously devours and ennobles, and in its freely acknowledged invention comes to be truer than the facts upon which it is built.
— Will Blythe, Elle Magazine, October 2006
“When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed. That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner…Tumultuous politics power the plot, and several sections are harrowing. But this dramatic, intelligent epic has its lush and sultry side as well: rebellious Olanna is the mistress of Odenigbo, a university professor brimming with anticolonial zeal; business-minded Kainene takes as her lover fair-haired, blue-eyed Richard, a British expatriate come to Nigeria to write a book about Igbo-Ukwu art—and whose relationship with Kainene nearly ruptures when he spends one drunken night with Olanna. This is a transcendent novel of many descriptive triumphs. It’s a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Astonishing…fierce and beautifully written. Chimamanda continues to lead us from the front with her powerful new book. So much of the experience of our generation of Africans is about how we find ourselves reacting to our times based on wars and battles and events that we know little about, but which continue to define us. We need to take control of our history, so we can manage our present. And it is this idea that is the inspiration behind this novel… Half of a Yellow Sun is honest and cutting, and always, always human, always loving… It is a pleasure to read Chimamanda’s crisp, resonant prose. We see how every person’s belonging is contested in a new nation; find out that nobility of purpose has no currency in this contest; how powerfully we can love; how easily we can kill; how human we can be when a war dedicates itself to stripping our humanity from us. Half of a Yellow Sun is ambitious, impeccably researched… Penetrating… epic and confident. Adichie refuses to look away.”
— Binyavanga Wainaina, author of Discovering Home, founder of the journal Kwani, and winner of The Caine Prize for African Writing
“This, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel, deserves to be nominated for the Booker prize. What is so memorable and accomplished about Half of a Yellow Sun is that political events are never dryly recited; rather they are felt through the medium of lived lives, of actual aching sensitive experiences. To my knowledge it is unusual for a young woman author to capture with such precision and verisimilitude the feelings of a man, but Ugwu is a totally realized character—ambitious, devoted, sexual, scholarly, courageous, uncomplaining, resourceful and intuitive. These characteristics, easy to rattle off, are all dramatized and substantiated in this long and intricate but always compelling narrative. When I think of how many European and American writers rehash the themes of suburban adultery or unhappy childhood, I look with awe and envy at this young woman from Africa who is recording the history of her country. She is fortunate—and we, her readers, are even luckier.”
— Edmund White
“Vividly written, thrumming with life, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel. In its compassionate intelligence, as in its capacity for intimate portraiture, this novel is a worthy successor to such twentieth-century classics as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River.”
— Joyce Carol Oates
“I was swept along…rarely have I felt so there, in the middle of all that suffering. I wasted the last fity pages, reading them far too greedily and fast, because I couldn’t bear to let go. There are not many novels where war is seen mainly from the women’s point of view, rather than that of the soldier, which makes this one double valuable…a magnificent second novel—and can’t fail to find the readership it deserves and demands.”
— Margaret Forster
“A magisterial novel about one of the most painful episodes in Nigeria’s history… packed with memorable characters and their different worlds.”
— Christina Patterson, The Independent
“A landmark novel, whose clear, undemonstrative prose can so precisely delineate nuance. There is a rare emotional truth in the sexual scenes, from Ugwu’s adolescent forays and the mature couples’ passions, to the ugliness of rape… Literary reflections on the Biafra war have a long and distinguished history… Adichie is part of a new generation revisiting the history that her parents survived. She brings to it a lucid intelligence and compassion, and a heartfelt plea for memory.”
— Maya Jaggi, The Guardian
“An immense achievement… Half of a Yellow Sun has a ramshackle freedom and exuberant ambition…. Reading this novel is as close as you can get to the terrifying experience of being at war…. Yet the narrative remains warm and as full-figured as its curvy heroine, Olanna. No matter how dire the circumstances, censure is not Adichie’s thing. She leaves the judging to us…. She sees with a loving but undeceived eye… She has a sure satirical edge… She never loses track of the personal. As well as freshly recreating this nightmarish chapter in her country’s history, she writes about the slow process by which love, if strong enough, may overcome.”
— Kate Kellaway, The Observer
“Adichie surpasses her award-winning debut, Purple Hibiscus, with a magnificent novel in which the dreams and tragedies of 1960s Nigeria are filtered through the minds and experiences of stupendously compelling characters. From page 1, an unbreakable bond is forged between the reader and Ugwu, a teen who has left his barebones village to serve as houseboy to a radical professor full of hope for newly independent Nigeria…. The momentous psychological and ethical pressures Adichie engineers could support an engrossing novel in their own right, but her great subject is Nigeria’s horrific civil war, specifically the fate of Biafra, the doomed breakaway Igbo state. Half of a Yellow Sun is Biafra’s emblem of hope, but the horrors and misery Adichie’s characters endure transform the promising image of a rising sun into that of a sun setting over a blood-soaked and starving land. Adichie has masterminded a commanding, sensitive epic about a vicious civil war that, for all its particular nightmares, parallels every war predicated by prejudice and stoked by outside powers hungry for oil and influence.”
— Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred, boxed review
“A welcome addition to the corpus of African letters…. Adichie squarely confronts Nigeria’s political history in order to explode presumably stable notions such as nationalism, race, ethnic identity, truth, heroism and betrayal…. She [revisits] the theme of nationalist struggle in ways that are reminiscent of canonical African novels… Half of a Yellow Sun strikes one as a fresh examination of the ravages of war [because] of Adichie’s poignant handling of human emotions, in a range of circumstances from romance to conflict.”
— Joyce W. Nyairo, Times Literary Supplement
“It is this kind of unflinching insight into her nation and its peoples that makes Half of a Yellow Sun a profoundly humanistic work of literature that bears comparison with the best fiction (from) Nigeria and, indeed, the entire African continent.”
— Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle
“Adichie’s ability to see and acknowledge failure in the good and good in the failing make her a sane and compassionate new voice in an often strident world. Half of a Yellow Sun is full of awful happenings but the whole is somehow oddly uplifting; it also manages to be a deeply political book while simultaneously celebrating the spiritual and the sexual.”
— The Financial Times
“Ingenious… This superbly talented writer has tackled a broad, ambitious subject: the civil war that took place [in Nigeria] in the decade before her birth… Adichie has found a way of engaging this large subject on the personal level by portraying it vividly and poignantly through the eyes of well-crafted characters …. Gentle, forbearing and sensitive, [the character] Olanna serves as a kind of touchstone throughout the novel. [Readers] will acutely feel her pain—along with her enduring capacity for compassion, indignation and love …. [Along] with making a powerful case against Britain’s bad stewardship [of Nigeria], Adichie’s novel also explores the depth and stubbornness of ethnic prejudices among Africans: not only Muslims versus Christians, but even among members of the same group who come from different classes, different villages, or even different families. Although Adichie sharply depicts the dreadful pettiness that’s all too often part of human nature, she never loses sight of our capacity to rise above such limitations. She deftly chronicles the wrenching experiences of her characters. [With] searching insight, compassion and an unexpected yet utterly appropriate touch of wit, Adichie has created an extraordinary book, a worthy addition to the world’s great tradition of large-visioned, powerfully realistic novels.”
— Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times
“At once historical and eerily current, Half of a Yellow Sun takes place in the forests of southeastern Nigeria 40 years ago, and honors the memory of a war largely forgotten. Adichie’s prose thrums with life. Like Nadine Gordimer, Adichie position[s] her characters at crossroads where public and private allegiances threaten to collide. Half of a Yellow Sun [has] an empathetic tone that never succumbs to simplifying impulses, heroic or demonic . . . . Reaching deep, [it] speaks through history to our war-racked age not through abstract analogy but through the energy of vibrant detail, [and] a mastery of small things.”
—Rob Nixon, The New York Times Book Review
“Instantly enthralling . . . Vivid . . . Adichie weaves [her] characters into a finely wrought, inescapable web. The book sustains an intimate focus and an epic backdrop. Half of a Yellow Sun is not a conventional war story any more than is A Farewell to Arms or For Whom the Bell Tolls . . . . Powerful.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Before Darfur, before Rwanda, there was Biafra. Adichie’s powerful second novel retells the shocking story of the ethnic cleansing and mass starvation in this breakaway territory of Nigeria in 1967—one of the first of Africa’s genocidal tragedies broadcast live in the West yet shamefully neglected there. A Nigerian, Adichie creates memorable characters torn between modern privilege and tribal ties . . . Masterfully, Adichie dissects their reactions as barbarism disrupts their bourgeois comfort and they struggle for survival.”
— Lee Aitken, People Magazine (four stars)
“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, takes place in her native Nigeria during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when civil war erupted as the eastern state of Biafra attempted to break away and was then forced into submission . . . [Adichie] writes about these events with deep feeling and unflinching vividness . . . . [Half of a Yellow Sun] begins as a kind of social comedy and doesn’t darken until the war breaks out.”
—Charles McGrath, The New York Times
“A sweeping story that provides both a harrowing history lesson and an engagingly human narrative . . . Adichie shifts points of view among the central characters, keeping their stories always in the foreground. She also alternates between the pre-war and war years, wrapping the emerging political conflict in a rich and involving drama . . . Adichie puts a powerfully human face on this sobering story, which is far from over.”
—Mary Brennan, The Seattle Times
“A stealthy and subtle piece of work . . . destined to become a classic. What gives this book permanence is not just the story of the secession of southeastern Nigeria and the formation of the brief and brutally conquered state of Biafra (a conflict that claimed more than 1 million lives). It is not even the aptness of Adichie’s characters, each of whom represents an aspect of the nation and of the human psyche. What will keep this book on the shelves and in the classroom for years to come is simply Adichie’s storytelling, which like all really great writing, manages to be vivid and invisible at the same time . . . . The characters may scream, but the author never does, and so that scream echoes in our heads. It is the kind of sound that resonates in its silence, and it can only be created through a deft use of words and story. This book confirms the notion that if you want to understand a country’s soul, read its fiction.”
—Emily Carter Roiphe, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A gorgeous, pitiless account of love, violence and betrayal during the Biafran war.”
—Time magazine (February 12, 2007)
“Rich, lyrical . . . Incorporating the lives of diverse tribes and a looming political war, [Adichie] engages readers with a story that is intoxicatingly addictive from page one.”
—The Ave magazine (Winter 2007)
“Half of a Yellow Sun, which follows a group of upper-class Nigerians during the social upheaval of the Biafran war of the 1960s, is a protean work of the imagination that is all the more remarkable at having been written by someone who isn’t yet 30. The novel is Tolstoyan in its grasp of history and in its ability to traverse various ends of the social spectrum from a village manservant to the daughter of wealthy bureaucrats.”
—David Milofsky, Denver Post (January 6, 2007)
“The Nigerian author’s masterful novel uses the 1967 genocide in Biafra as a backdrop for a nuanced tale about decent people in moral chaos.”
—Michelle Green, People (Top 10 Books of 2006) (December 25, 2006)
“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 . . . . She has a keen ability to capture the nurturing and destructive nuances that permeate human relationships. Her characters surprise themselves and the reader.”
—Aïssatou Sidimé, San Antonio Express-News (December 22, 2006)
“Compelling . . . The author lyrically interweaves the stories of twin sisters, their families, friends and servants into a single story that is riveting political, social and human history . . . Insightful.”
—Jane Ramos Trimble, Panache / Fort-Worth Star Telegram magazine (November/December 2006)
“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie proves herself a talented and ambitious writer with [this] far-reaching and engrossing historical novel about the 1967 Nigerian civil war . . . [It] encompasses a large cast whose individual dramas are set within the panoramic landscape of war. Adichie’s fully realized and finely observed characters hook the reader and carry the story through wrenching events to its sorrowful, tragic conclusion . . . . Adichie’s clear-sighted examination reveals how quickly national loyalties, even when rooted in seemingly just causes, can become entangled with self-absorption, denial and even cruelty. By venturing so fearlessly into complex moral territory, Adichie reveals her talents as a novelist as well as her gifts as a perceptive observer of human behavior.”
—Heather Hewett, Newsday (November 19, 2006)
“A whopping good read. It’s like Gone with the Wind, except in Nigeria.”
—New York magazine (November 27, 2006)
“A novel that [uses] fiction to its best advantage, telling the stories of ordinary people—loving, fallible, passionate and vulnerable—ineluctably caught in savage circumstances of chaos, breakdown and violence . . . . Adichie has immense sympathy for her characters, embracing them, faults and all . . . By the time military coups explode into mass killings, and the creation of the Republic of Biafra collapses into a vicious civil war later in the decade, you willingly follow [them] as their lives change drastically . . . . Written with unflinching clarity, what Adichie’s novel offers is a compassionate, compelling look at the nearly unfathomable immediacy of war’s effect on people . . . . Half of a Yellow Sun [ensures] that precious memories have been given eloquent and far-reaching voices. [A] heart-stopping [tribute] to that unbreakable human bond, love.”
—Daneet Steffens, Chicago Tribune (November 5, 2006)
“In her sweeping novel, Adichie creates a masterful tale of Biafra’s hopeful birth and terrible death.”
—The Sunday Star-Ledger (October 29, 2006)
“Half of a Yellow Sun entirely absorbs the reader . . . [and] leaves you reeling at the horrors people can inflict on one another. Set during the internecine Nigeria-Biafra conflict, it is a bootless, toothless cry against the wickedness of what one character describes as ‘the custodians of fate.’ The stark maturity of its vision is so startling that the great African novelist Chinua Achebe refused to believe the book could have been written by someone so young . . . From the very first page you understand just what he means. Adichie resolutely refuses to show off. She writes in a stately, almost grandiloquent manner—the mode of eons-old epics about civilizations battered by war—and relies on the potency of her story rather than flashy phrase-making to sustain the interest of her reader . . . . Adichie dramatizes the savage diurnal grind as her characters struggle to survive Biafra in the face of bombing raids, starvation and the constant threat of being overrun by Nigerian ‘vandals.’ Atrocity is ever-present, included not for shock value but simply because such horrors happened . . . Masterfully understated . . . the book takes on an urgent, visceral power . . . . [Over] the course of the book the characters burrow into your marrow and mind, and you come to care for them deeply.”
—Alistair Sooke, The Daily Telegraph (UK) (September 3, 2006)
“Adichie uses layers of history, symbol and myth . . . . [and] uses language with relish. She infuses her English with a robust poetry, and the narrative is cross-woven with Igbo idiom and language. The novel reflects on language both as a means of communication, and of identity, which may be a threat or a means of belonging. Speaking Igbo instead of Yoruba may lead to a beating or death, as war erupts . . . . Adichie returns again and again to the idea of belonging. What does it mean, how do cultures create networks of belonging and exclusion? The novel circles these questions, although they can never be resolved.”
—Helen Dunmore, The Times (UK) (August 26, 2006)
“After her outstanding first novel Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel was eagerly awaited and doesn’t disappoint. It is again set in her homeland of Nigeria, but this time, during the 1960s and the fratricidal Biafran war . . . . [Nigeria] has been riven by wars, saddled with military dictatorships, endemic corruption and is characterized by huge economic disparities. It has, though, also produced more than its fair share of Africa’s best writers and Adichie is undoubtedly among them. This is not an ‘African’ book in the narrow or parochial sense, but belongs in the mainstream of humanitarian world literature, even though it is firmly rooted in Nigeria. Adichie writes with a maturity that belies her mere 29 years. In her eloquent and passionate prose, the heat, the smells, the sensuality and color of Africa leap from the pages. Her characters are finely drawn and vibrantly alive . . . . Through her main characters, [Adichie] teases out the class, race and economic conflicts that are endemic in her country. Her novel explores the issues of moral responsibility, the legacies of colonialism, the consequences of ethnic ties, class and race and how relationships on a personal level intertwine and interact on these. This is a novel which does more than tickle the taste buds, it takes the reader deep into African reality and the souls of our brothers and sisters in a part of the world that rarely figures on our world map unless there is a catastrophe or calamity of enormous proportions.”
—John Green, Morning Star (UK) (August 20, 2006)
“Set in 1960s Nigeria, this novel provides a historical record at the same time as giving an insight into the experience of living through a bloody civil war . . . . Adichie is a beguiling author . . . . Full of drama and characters you care about . . . Educational and enlightening.”
—The Works (UK) (four stars)
“Set during the Nigerian/Biafran civil war in the late Sixties, this moving and thrilling book centers on the lives of two twin sisters and those close to them . . . . Adichie has the rare gift of being able to create a whole person in a couple of lines. Her compassion for her people is all-embracing as she gently mocks their little foibles and refuses to judge what war makes them capable of. This book paints a massive canvas through intimate detail. It is funny, heartbreaking, exquisitely written, and, without doubt, a literary masterpiece and a classic.”
—John Harding, Daily Mail (UK) (August 18, 2006)
“In her richly imagined new novel, Adichie recounts [the] explosive time [before and during the Biafran War] through the tales of several people linked through love, loyalty and birth . . . bringing alive events that remain for many of us remote both in time and place . . . [All] of the main characters share [the] same fevered patriotism for their new homeland. But as the horrors of war mount, they must fight to keep their relationships together, as their world and their ideals are torn apart. The power behind this novel lies in how seamlessly Adichie melds the personal and the political in her narrative. War is defined not only by the casualties of civilians and soldiers, but by the death of a collective dream. The Republic of Biafra may be gone, but thanks to Adichie, it is not forgotten.”
—Amy Woods Butler, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (October 29, 2006)
“Powerful . . . a complex tale of human passions and flaws . . . The main characters share the proud desire to build a new nation out of the chaos of postcolonial Nigeria. Yet [Half of a Yellow Sun] deftly avoids becoming a political manifesto . . . Adichie subtly nods at those responsible for the massacre without sliding into polemics. [She] refuses to turn away from the past’s ugly reality, mourning not just the lives lost but a time when ‘people believed deeply in something.’ Through her dazzling storytelling, that time will not be easily forgotten.”
—Amber Haq, Newsweek International (October 23, 2006)
“[Half of a Yellow Sun] spans the decade to the end of the Biafran war, in which more than a million people died. Its focus is the impact of the war on [Adichie’s] characters and the characters they interact with. A story striking for its speed . . . Direct . . . It works, mysteriously, and is strange and new.”
—Eleanor Birne, London Review of Books (October 5, 2006)
“Based loosely on political events in nineteen-sixties Nigeria, [Half of a Yellow Sun] focuses on two wealthy sisters, who drift apart as the newly independent nation struggles to remain unified . . . After a series of massacres targeting the Igbo people, [their] carefully genteel world disintegrates. Adichie indicts the outside world for its indifference and probes the arrogance and ignorance that perpetuated the conflict. Yet this is no polemic. The characters and landscape are vividly painted, and details used to heartbreaking effect.”
—The New Yorker (October 16, 2006)
“Richly drawn . . . We develop great sympathy and affection for [Adichie’s characters] as the story moves along, and come to care very much about what is in store for them, as all the very best novels make us do . . . . [This] is not primarily a political novel, but a novel about a group of people undergoing a catastrophe and somehow enduring . . . desperately clinging to their belief that they will prevail . . . A moving tribute . . . [It] will not be long before Half of a Yellow Sun becomes a classic [and] comes to take its place in world literature, alongside the masterpieces of the post-colonial world.”
—Richard Stack, New Haven Independent (October 9, 2006)
“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has delivered a big novel about life in modern Nigeria during war time. The war in question is the Biafran War of the 1960s, during which the southern region of Biafra fought unsuccessfully to secede . . . The book mainly follows the fortunes of Olanna . . . a beautiful, well-educated Igbo woman . . . and those of a psychologically fascinating and varied cast of characters, from high-society colonials on down to Ugwu, an Igbo country boy. Though their daily lives and destinies as well are tied to the end of peace and the rise of war, Adichie makes them above all else interesting, even compelling, as sharply defined individuals. This lends to the novel a powerful psychological element that we don’t always find in historical fiction. Ms. Adichie is far too young for us to declare that she’s the Tolstoy of west Africa . . . But she’s as good as any of her contemporaries, who are a talented lot indeed, at keeping our interest alive in a part of the world that most of us have never visited—until now.”
—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered, National Public Radio (October 4, 2006)
“Engrossing . . . [Half of a Yellow Sun] incisively explores the disjunction between history as it is experienced personally and its result: that the world will continue to trundle on its way in spite of history’s injustices. Set during the turbulent first decades of Nigeria’s independence in the 1960s, which saw the county torn apart by the Biafran Civil War, the novel vividly brings to life the political and cultural crises that beset post-independence Nigeria. Moving back and forth in time between the euphoric optimism of independence in the early 60s and the nightmarish descent into civil war in the late 60s, Adichie probes the impact of politics and war on the psyche of ordinary people . . . Adichie’s characters are ultimately powerless to control the course of events . . . [but] the consolation for the trials of history, the novel seems to say, are the human bonds that individuals forge with one another. In its deeply insightful portrayal of one of Nigeria’s most traumatic epochs, Adichie’s novel affirms a different kind of historical ‘truth’—not the facile truth of facts, figures, and dates, but the deeper truth of throbbing, lived experience.”
—Fatin Abbas, The Nation (October 2, 2006)