Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

-written by Hearth Member, Marika McCoola

A small group met at The Blue Shirt Cafe on Wednesday to discuss Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We read Adichie’s novel Americanah last year and wanted to read another work by her, hence this month’s selection.

Half a Yellow Sun is weighty in many ways: its’ length (over 400 pages), scope (over 5 years), and content (the Biafran war). It’s an eye-opening novel, certainly worth reading, but if you’re headed to the beach, I’d recommend starting with Americanah.

Set in the 1960s in Nigeria and running through 1970 and the end of the Biafran war, the novel starts with characters who may feel familiar to readers of Americanah: Nigerian intellectuals and professors. While the war is certainly at the heart of this novel, we found our discussion gravitated to hierarchy and status, as determined by attraction, wealth, education, birthplace, tribe, and even food. As war breaks out, this hierarchy is affected in a number of ways and the way characters react to changes in their status is interesting, and influenced by tribe, society, and politics. It’s a complex series of changes made more complex by the well-developed characterizations of each individual.

Like Americanah, the story line bounces around in time and in terms of what character is being most closely followed. The result is a sense of perspective on the events, an opportunity for readers to question their initial responses to events, which, after listening to Adichie’s incredible TED Talk The Danger of a Single Story, may very well be what she hoped to achieve.

If you didn’t get a chance to join us, we’d still love to hear  your thoughts. In June we’ll be discussing Marge Piercy’s He, She and It, which I think will encourage comparisons with Butler’s Parable of the Sower and our July pick, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Hopefully you’ll be able to join us!

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