Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Half of a Yellow Sun

Stories can sometimes help us grasp a complex situation more readily than reading dry facts.

With the tragic cycle of killings and reprisals in Nigeria in the news, I was reminded of the novel Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (2006) The novel takes place in the 1960’s before and during the failed war of secession of the Igbo people of the eastern region of Nigeria. The story unravels through the eyes of three characters—Ugwu, a peasant houseboy working for a revolutionary Igbo professor; Olanna, the girlfriend of the professor; and Richard, an Englishman living in the country who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister. Their lives are interrupted and their loyalties tested by the bloody three-year civil war.

The novel is not only a gripping story of love and betrayal, but it will also clue in foreigners to the complex history, ethnic make-up, and class differences of Nigeria. Through the personal stories of Adichie’s compelling characters, we see the roots and immediate causes of the violence, and how the lives of peasants, intellectuals and the elite alike were affected.

I know much has changed in the past fifty years, but still the novel provides some background to understand modern-day Nigeria. Most importantly it brings the human dimension to readers who sometimes are numbed from all the statistics of death and violence in the world today.

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