Books of 2007: Half of a Yellow Sun–Bea Colley

Friends of The Reader write about their books of 2007.

By Bea Colley

The book Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie follows a group of characters through the Nigeria-Biafra war. The lives of Ugwu the houseboy, Olanna, the beautiful daughter of an important Igbo businessman, and Richard, a British writer in love with Olanna’s twin sister Kainene intertwine, and the characters depend on each other for protection, love and strength in the struggle to survive as their independent state of Biafra is torn apart by Nigerian troops, famine, and disease.

Knowing very little about this conflict myself and reading humbly from the safety of my British bedroom, Half of a Yellow Sun felt like one of the most important books I have read in a long time. It is the impact that the political situation has on the different characters that makes this book such an affecting read – some relationships are saved by the war: individuals are forced to forget arguments that suddenly seem meaningless when compared with the horrific possibility of losing a child or a sister or a lover to the war; some characters seem to fade, with the war slowly destroying their faith and most detrimentally, their ideology, and some find themselves instigators of the war’s atrocities in a situation where humanity has become blurred.

Adichie’s carnal writing hovers between the physical strength and fragility of the human body: its destruction through starvation and through the violence of the war but also its preservation through relationships – both sexual and emotional of the central characters. The book gives us an insight into the reality of the Nigeria-Biafra war – not just of the starving millions that were shown on the television in the late sixties, but of the individuals of varying wealth, class, education, and incredible strength, who fought for an end to the killings, for independence, and to save their fellow Biafrans. The ending may feel somewhat unsatisfactory for some readers, but seems to echo the general mood of a book of unanswered questions and frustration. I felt uneasy, yet tentatively hopeful for those characters who continue to survive.

___

Bea Colley is the Coordinator of Liverpool Reads… , a city-wide reading project that aims to get the whole of Liverpool sharing the same book. A mighty task and one that keeps Bea’s desk in The Reader Organisation‘s office a constant hive of activity as she organises events, reading groups, children’s activities and author readings. For 2007, schools, hospitals, community centres and library groups across Liverpool have been reading Andrea Levy’s Small Island. Details about the big read for 2008 will be on the Liverpool Reads website soon.