African novel both personal and political
December 26, 2006
“Half of a Yellow Sun,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel, is set in the 1960s at a time when the republic of Biafra is struggling for its independence from Nigeria.
The novel’s compelling story is told through the lives of three people: the beautiful Olanna, who has chosen to turn her back on her bourgeois upbringing; Ugwu, her dutiful houseboy from a small village; and Richard, a struggling British author enthralled by Olanna’s twin sister, Kainene. While written as historical fiction, Ngozi Adichie’s story unfolds the political conflict through the points of view of her characters, whose loyalty to both an independent Biafra and to one another becomes increasingly tested. The political conflict serves as the framework or backdrop of the novel, while the characters’ richly detailed stories provide the central focus. Ngozi Adichi never compromises her characters’ internal and relational conflicts to the larger political strife.Weaving different class, culture and belief systems through the three distinct main characters, the novel provides the reader with a diverse, layered understanding of the war and its effect on people. Ngozi Adichie intertwines her characters’ stories in complex ways, yet focuses on one perspective per chapter. The novel’s more elusive characters, Olanna’s revolutionary lover Odenigbo and her withdrawn, distant twin sister Kainene, prove to be the book’s most interesting because they refuse to be predictable and leave the reader with unanswered questions. Ngozi Adichie’s sensual and heartfelt account of the Igbo people of Biafra paints a genuine picture of their resilience, downfalls, victories and disappointments.Born in 1977 in Nigeria, Ngozi Adichie is wise beyond her years.