« In Canada, the prime minister quipped, “Where is Biafra?
» When I read this line, although I'd already done quite a lot of research at this point because I had absolutely no idea what Adichie was talking about (something I would suggest everyone do), it reaffirmed my poor education. For six years of my schooling I had Quebec and a dash of Canadian history beaten into my head for me to remember it only for tests and exams. Despite the multicultural act Canada claims to have, all the money and time they spent funding it has only seemed to produce a diverse palate in terms of restaurants instead of education. I state, with mild embarrassment and shame, that I really couldn't name all the countries in Africa, nor could I tell you their placement. I'm familiar with Nigeria and other territories afflicted by the Caribbean portion of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, but what I know stops short at the names of a few tribes and maybe their generalized location. I receive a relatively "free" education her in Quebec, but the tax money stripped from us in the name of education could definitely be a lot more inclusive of the world in our textbooks, since tax collectors do not discriminate against origin (only mafia/political ties and well paid lawyers/accountants to find loopholes for the rich). Anyways, I had no idea Biafra existed, but now I do. Do your own research and learning people; tomorrow I will be buying a large world map to put on my wall.
As her second novel, Adichie made a bold and well-received decision on retelling stories from the Biafran civil war, erupting a few years after independence from British colonial rule. Historical fiction is not always easy to do, but Adichie goes about tackling the three year civil war in Nigeria very well. When you read Half of a Yellow Sun
, it does not read like novice piece. There is no stumbling to find her voice, or loose ends with characters. Everything is blunt, and the method of telling the beginning and ending of the stories in an overlapping fashion is well carried out throughout the entire novel. While the novel covers the politics of Nigeria and Biafra in parts referred to as the "early Sixties" and "late Sixties", each of the chapters themselves bounce from voice to voice of the main characters.
Half of a Yellow Sun
covers post-independence Nigeria to post-civil war Nigeria through five main characters. Before I begun this book, I read a lot of comments from people squabbling about there being such a huge number of characters in the novel. People who are complaining about there being too many characters in the story either have the inability to follow a story with more than three characters, or find it impossible to follow a story where said characters do not have European names. In the A Song of Ice and Fire
series, popularly referred to by it's HBO dramatization Game of Thrones
, each new chapter has about twelve new characters, and no one is complaining about that. Some of you can have 1,000+ friends on Facebook and tell a longwinded story about bumping into your cousin's neighbour's babysitter's dog walker's yoga instructor at the holiday yoga retreat your boyfriend's cousin's boss organized, but can't handle a few extra characters in a story? Give me a break. The only thing I didn't like about the book was the lack of translation for the Igbo phrases and proverbs at the back of the book; some of them were a little difficult to find translations for. But the list of what I'm guessing are suggested reads also covering the history of the territory marked as Nigeria and Biafra's civil war make up for it.
It took me three days to go through this novel, most of it being read in one sitting while at the hair salon. While getting my hair braided before the semester, in the five and a half hours it took to complete the style I finished the last 475 or so pages left. What stunned me was the looming of an uprising. It might be just an instance of hindsight being 20/20, but Adichie use of small instances of alluding are realistic. The crowd control before the slaughter is a scary thought, and I have no idea how to place myself in the shoes of Olanna, one of the main voices in the novel, who is forced to flee her home with her fiancée at the last second. Finally getting Baby to rest and a pot of soup on the stove, it isn't even finished cooking yet when she grabs it with two towels and puts it hastily in the back of the car, with everyone else in the house scrambling to gather a few things before they run. I cannot imagine having to run from place to place, each pushing you further into camps as they're bombed out behind you. I cannot fathom little children, no older than six, chasing each other to see who can get to the bunkers first. I have no idea what it's like to wait in line for food all day, only to reach the front of the line to be told that there is nothing left. All of these are ignorances that I thankfully have, noting the pretty calm past the former British West Indies colonies have had. What I will mention however, is that towards the ending there is a heavy hand of mentioning the violence women faced during the civil war, at the hands of soldiers supposedly on their side, and there is a brief rape scene. There definitely aren't any obvious clues that this part of the civil war is coming up as well, and it's quite a shocker to bring the reader back to reality considering the entire novel preceding this moment is absent of mentioning rape. I find it quite interesting at the end though with the parallels in the two instances of gang rape that are referenced, how one can be so detached and nonchalant when it is a random attack but then so hurt and unsettled when it comes closer to home.
Adichie provides us with no happy endings, which is appropriate. The house is ruined and someone else has taken fierce ownership of a house that does not belong to them. A family member is lost, unknowing if it is only in displacement or of life. This is civil war. This is what the aftermath looks like. It is not only funds and exports lost, but the trials that the humans stuck in the warfare face. Nothing about this is happy, and it shouldn't be.
Labels: 50 books in 52 weeks, chimamanda ngozi adichie, half of a yellow sun, woc writers, women writers reading group