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Monday, November 2, 2015

"Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Decade Winner

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel of the Biafran war, Half of a Yellow Sun, has been named the best winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction of the last decade – by both the public and a judging panel.  The award chose to mark its 20th anniversary by asking the chairs of judges of the past 10 years to pick their “best of the best” winner from the last decade (  Here are some notes I made on that book which I read back in July of 2008.

Review of Half of a Yellow Sun
4.5 Stars
The novel is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, the early optimistic years and the civil war period at the end of the decade when Muslim-dominated forces from the north lay siege to the Christian Igbo of the south who sought to secede after the widespread massacre of their people.  The Biafran war is remembered for the famine but this book gives the religious, social and political background.  The novel puts blame on the colonial powers who set nonsensical national boundaries trying to unite disparate tribes.

The five main characters are developed thoroughly and shown as dynamic:  Odenigbo, an intellectual Pan-Africanist; Ugwu, Odenigbo’s houseboy; Olanna, Odenigbo’s mistress; Kainene, Olanna’s fraternal twin and foil; and Richard, Kainene’s principled English lover.

Olanna and Kainene have an uneasy relationship symbolic of the relationships between Nigeria’s postcolonial peoples; they are involuntarily joined and must choose between a difficult unity and a difficult separation. 

The characters are very realistic.  Even the most honourable have humanizing flaws.

The book depicts the impact of war on a variety of people:  peasants, intellectuals, the elite.  It touches on a number of topics:  world politics, colonial policies, religious differences, tribal influences, geographical prejudices, racism, economic class consciousness, business activities, family connections and obligations, friendship, and sexual desire.