Review: ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I bought this book simply due to the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007 ‘Winner’ sticker on the front cover. Initially, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was over but after completing the book, I realised what a life-changing, inspirational read this book is.

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is set in 1960s Nigeria during the Civil War. A village boy, Ugwu, is taken to work as a houseboy for a bourgeois university lecturer. Olanna, the lecturer’s lover, has abandoned a life of privilege to live with ‘her revolutionary’. Olanna’s twin sister embarks upon a relationship with a shy Englishman, Richard, who has come to live in Nigeria to write. When the reality of war finally hits them, their allegiances are tested to the limit. When the independent state of Biafra is declared, the characters are relieved but they have no idea how this independence will negatively affect them.

I found Part 1 quite laborious but after reading more of the book, I realised that Part 1 was important to set the scene and make the reader understand the lives of those involved before war changed them forever. The reader is treated to beautiful, flowing descriptions of the house in which Ugwu works and the people who pass through. Part 1 is full of privileged people talking about theories regarding war and liberty and I found that quite boring at times but what Adichie is doing is demonstrating that the intelligentsia may have theories and ideas but when it comes down to it, war is indiscriminate. It affects everyone.

Some of the scenes in this book are massively difficult to stomach – forced conscription, rape, violence and starvation are some of the themes – but Adichie has based this book on real events that happened. Adichie lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war. This book is not only a story about love and loss but it is also a coming-of-age story and the reader will learn a lot about history too.

Adichie captures the shades of grey perfectly. Her characters demonstrate that there is no such thing as an all-good or all-bad person only good and bad actions. I feel like I learned a lot about Nigerian culture, particularly their belief in spirits and spells which was really interesting.

Olanna and her sister Kainene represent a particularly honest account of sisterhood which I really appreciated.

This story is not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination but I feel it is an important story. There is a great deal of brutality but what you must remember is that these things happened – and continue to happen – in war zones. They may not be easy to read but that’s what adds the power to this novel. Adichie isn’t afraid of shocking the reader and her fearlessness is admirable. Her knack for noticing the little details and making them significant is incredible.

Half of a Yellow Sun is an incredible, honest account of life before, during and after war. It’s so moving and awe-inspiring, I felt so much compassion towards  the characters and all of the people caught up in this terrible conflict.

Vic x

Get your copy of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ here:


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