2016 TBR Pile Challenge: Half of a Yellow Sun

I’ve not been having the greatest luck with my TBR Pile Challenge this year. Oh, I’ve stayed on track and managed to read at least a book a month, but it feels like I haven’t fallen in love with any of the books in a while.

I did love The Book of Unknown Americans and The Mathematician’s Shiva and In Triumph’s Wake was a revelation…but there was also The Little Book, The Slap and The Grapes of Wrath debacle. The Custom of the Country was only so-so for me.

I really wanted a win.

And at first, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun seemed like it would end up in the disappointment column.

I’m happy to report that, after a rocky start, I loved Half of a Yellow Sun.

yellow sun

Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of the Biafran War that took place from 1967-1970 and the people that were affected by it. Ugwu, a 13 year old when we first meet him, goes to work as the house-boy of a professor at Nsukka University, Odenigbo. Soon, Odenigbo’s girlfriend, Olanna comes to live with them. Olanna is the beautiful daughter of an Igbo chief, whose twin sister Kainene takes up with an English man, Richard. Richard, Olanna and Ugwu are our storytellers, but through them we keep up with Odenigbo’s revolutionary politics and Kainene’s business interests.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know anything about the Biafran War. Reading Half of a Yellow Sun made me realize how little I knew about any African history, aside from anything that affected European politics. Adichie’s family lived through this war – her grandfathers didn’t survive it. The stories that she tells in this book are based on the experiences of real people.

When I first started reading this, I read in fits and starts; 10 pages here, 13 pages there. I loved Americanah so much – it grabbed me from the very first page – and I was afraid that this one just wasn’t going to live up to it.

But it did. Once I devoted some proper time to this book (and if you decide to read it, I would recommend that you have some time to really get into this one) I fell in love. Adichie’s vivid depictions of a people torn apart by war, of the lives that they led and then lost, of the ways that Ugwu, Olanna, Richard, Kainene and Odenigbo have to figure out how to survive in this new reality, of the love that they have for the idea of an independent Biafra, to be able to exist as an example of free African government, are intense.

This book taught me a lot – mostly about how much more I have to learn. I have a rabbit hole waiting for me right now on the actual history and politics of the Biafran War. If I wasn’t already a huge fan of Adichie’s, I would be now.

PS Half of a Yellow Sun is also a movie.

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24 thoughts on “2016 TBR Pile Challenge: Half of a Yellow Sun

  1. Pingback: The Unofficial 2016 TBR Pile Challenge | The Paperback Princess

  2. I have this one on my shelf, so it’s good to hear you liked it. Most people seem to, but I will keep in mind that it’s slow-to-warm-up!

  3. I was a little worried when I first started it, too, because it definitely didn’t have the same immediate voice of Americanah. But I did end up loving it and just adore her writing so much!

    • No it doesn’t! I remember being completely bewitched by Americanah from the first page. I’m pretty sure I’m an Adichie convert now though – I will give her the space she needs to write the story she wants to write and stick around until the last word.

  4. Book of Unknown Americans has been on my TBR forever…need to get to it! And glad this one ended up panning out for you. I, too, don’t know anything about the Biafran War 😦

  5. I really liked this book too, and I’m glad you pushed through and found the value of it. I agree with you: it taught me as well how much more I need to learn about the world around me and how much history I know nothing about.

    • There were a number of things that I read in the book that struck me about history and how separate it’s been, traditionally. For example, some of the characters talk about maps and how the world is a sphere but white people decided that their countries should be on top. I’d obviously never thought about it like that!

  6. Pingback: Library Checkout – July 2016 | The Paperback Princess

  7. I didn’t know anything about the Biafran war either: we learn so much from fiction! The first of hers which I read was Purple Hibiscus and, in some ways, I feel like it’s a great introduction to her style and her voice, because it’s short and accessible (though not always an easy story by any means). But I loved how, even though it was slow to start, Half of a Yellow Sun was so deliciously complicated, how, in the last 100 pages you’re just completely swept away and don’t want to think about it ending.

  8. Thanks very much for the link: so many great ideas there. Especially about how she sees young women in Nigeria today, about the tendency to see racism “elsewhere” but not at “home”, about the writing process (as you’ve mentioned). I love this bit about Richard’s character, too: ““I remember when I had what I like to call the breakthrough – when I actually realised, you know, Richard is me. So he’s white, he’s male, he’s English, all of that, but he’s human. I said to myself, He’s human. And that made it so easy.”” Thanks again!

  9. Pingback: Fictional Year | The Paperback Princess

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