I think we’ve all grown up seeing images of starving children in Africa. And it’s all too easy as Americans to let Africa remain as a stereotype — a continent (all too often not even distinguished in our minds into separate countries) where children starve, and wars ravage, and governments swindle. This is one of the reasons that I find it so critical to read what is being written by talented African authors today.
Half a Yellow Sun is set during Nigeria’s Biafran War, yet it is much more than a history of the atrocities of this particular war. It is an intricately woven novel about five people—twin sisters, their lovers (one an Igbo-speaking Englishman, the other a fiery hearted professor with revolutionary ideals for his country), and a young Igbo houseboy. It’s a story that uncovers the thoughts and spirits of these people as their lives intersect with each others’ and as the events of the Biafran War unfold. We see both hidden depths of strength and unanticipated weakness in the lives of the characters we come to love.
The author of this book is herself Nigerian, and though she’s too young to have herself experienced the events of which she writes, her understanding of the heartblood of her country pulses through in her writing. This is not an outsider looking in. This book allows us a chance to better understand Nigeria, not as “some place in Africa where there was a war,” but as a real place with real people—living, loving, suffering. If you want to be further inspired, I would highly recommend Ms. Adichie’s TED Talk entitled The Danger of a Single Story.
Half a Yellow Sun is not an easy book. Its subject matter rips deeply into us and makes us question our beliefs about humanity. But it’s a beautifully crafted window into the lives of people living in and trying to make sense of a time and place full of evil.