Reviewer: Iniobong Ikpe
“Half of a Yellow Sun” is a stunning novel that tells the story of several characters whose lives are forever changed by the Nigerian Civil War. Adichie’s writing is beautiful and powerful, and her characters are complex and deeply human.
The novel is divided into four parts, each focusing on a different period of time leading up to, during, and after the war. Through the eyes of Ugwu, Olanna, Odenigbo, Richard, and Kainene, we witness the horror of war and the resilience of the human spirit.
Part One introduces us to the central characters: Ugwu, a young boy from a rural village who becomes the houseboy of Odenigbo, a university professor; Olanna, Odenigbo’s beautiful and headstrong partner; Richard, a British writer who has come to Nigeria to explore Igbo-Ukwu art; and Kainene, Olanna’s twin sister, who is aloof and reserved. The characters form a close-knit group, and we see their relationships develop against the backdrop of political upheaval as Nigeria gains independence and the country becomes increasingly divided along ethnic lines.
In Part Two, the war breaks out and the characters are forced to confront the brutal realities of conflict. Olanna and Odenigbo flee to the safety of Odenigbo’s ancestral village, while Richard travels to the war-torn Biafran capital to report on the conflict. Kainene stays behind in the city to manage the family business, a thriving trading company.
Part Three depicts the devastating effects of the war on the characters’ lives. They face hunger, disease, and displacement, and must make difficult choices in order to survive. Kainene becomes increasingly involved in the war effort, using her business acumen to smuggle food and medicine into Biafra. She also forms a romantic relationship with Richard, who is captivated by her intelligence and bravery.
In Part Four, the war ends and the characters attempt to rebuild their lives in the aftermath. Kainene disappears, and Olanna and Richard spend years searching for her. They confront the difficult questions of what it means to be Nigerian and what the future holds for their country.
Throughout the novel, Adichie masterfully weaves together personal stories with historical events, giving readers a vivid and unforgettable portrait of a critical moment in Nigerian history.
One of the most striking aspects of the book is Adichie’s ability to convey the complexity of the conflict. As Richard, a British writer exploring Igbo-Ukwu art, reflects, “the world was silent when we died…and what does it mean to say that the world was silent? It means that we were alone in the world, that’s what it means” (Richard).
Kainene, Olanna’s twin sister, is a particularly compelling character, and her bravery and intelligence are inspiring. As she becomes increasingly involved in the war effort, she uses her business acumen to smuggle food and medicine into Biafra. She tells Richard, “I am a human being before I am a woman and before I am Igbo…the people who are dying are human beings, Richard. We must do something, we must help them” (Kainene).
Adichie’s writing is rich and evocative, and she creates a vivid and unforgettable portrait of a critical moment in Nigerian history. Her characters are complex and multifaceted, and their stories are both heartbreaking and inspiring. As Olanna reflects towards the end of the book, “The world was already changing…It would no longer be enough to write about the kindness of strangers, the brotherhood of man, acts of courage. It would no longer be enough to describe the war as madness” (Olanna).
The book explores themes of identity, belonging, love, and loss, and raises important questions about the human cost of war and the power of resilience in the face of adversity.
I would highly recommend “Half of a Yellow Sun” to anyone who enjoys beautifully written and thought-provoking literature.