Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair. Ugwu’s aunty said this in a low voice as they walked on the path. “But he is a good man,” she added. “And as long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day.” She stopped to spit; the saliva left her mouth with a sucking sound and landed on the grass.
I watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s awesome TEDx talk, ‘We Should All Be Feminists‘ last week. Her talk was on a rather serious subject, but her wit and brilliant sense of humor made me realize it is about time I read her book, Half of a Yellow Sun.
Half of a Yellow Sun is set in post-independence Nigeria. Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, and as soon as the British left, the struggle for power began among Nigerians based on ethnicity, religion, culture, oi and various other factors. This soon led to a civil war in 1967 and the result was an independent state in the name of Republic of Biafra which was mostly inhabited by people of Igbo ethnicity.
The story is narrated by Ugwu; a village boy who comes to work in the household of Odenigbo; a Professor of Mathematics at Nsukka University, Olanna; Odenigbo’s partner and twin sister to Kainene, and Richard; an English writer who first comes to Nigeria to explore Igbo-Ukwu art for his book, later falls in love with Kainene and fights for the cause of Biafra. As the story unfolds, we see the birth, rise and fall of Biafra through the eyes of these three narrators.
Brutality of war is one of the ongoing themes in the novel. At the beginning of the war thousands of people get slaughtered mercilessly. In my opinion, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does too good of a job bringing these horrific events to life, specially when she writes about the woman Olanna meets in the train when she is running for her life, who holds tight to a bowl which carries the head of her little daughter “with the ashy-gray skin and the braided hair and rolled-back eyes and open mouth”. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reminds us hunger and starvation also lead to thousands of deaths during war time, when we read about Nigeria cutting of humanitarian aid to Biafra, driving people to eat rats, lizards, and crickets just so they can hold on to life.
Thousands of Biafrans were dead, and this man wanted to know if there was anything new about one dead white man. Richard would write about this, the rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person.
Western media’s coverage of third world issues is something that is highly criticized even today. When a bomb goes off in a first world country, we see media covering those stories for days, when in turn they might not even mention of something that happened in a third world country which resulted in significantly more body count. Through Richard, who decides to name his book ‘The World Was Silent When We Died’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie heavily criticizes these journalism practices which often seem to revere ‘the importance’ of white lives over blacks.
… And on top of it, her parents sent her to university. Why? Too much schooling ruins a woman; everyone knows that. It gives a woman a big head and she will start to insult her husband.What kind of wife will that be?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, being a feminist herself, talks of many fallacies Nigeria holds through her novel. In the eyes of Odenigbo’s mother, Olanna will never be a good enough wife for her son because Olanna is educated and has career aspirations of her own. But Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie portrays both Olanna and Kainene as accomplished women in their own right, whose courage do not lag behind their male partners. I believe this is the kind of female empowerment Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie hopes and dreams for Nigeria, where daughters will not be pawns in their fathers’ schemes to reach success, and wives will have a life outside their households.
I kept pushing off reading the book because I always felt this novel will leave me in tears. However, that did not happen probably because the story is narrated by three people, which did not give me much space to connect with either of them in a deeper level. Nonetheless, Half of a Yellow Sun is one of my favorite reads this year and I will put an end to this post by sharing the Half of a Yellow Sun movie trailer with you. 🙂