Half of a Yellow Sun is set during the birthing pains of a nation. The year is 1960 and country had just received its independence from the United Kingdom. It is in this atmosphere, both electric and fresh, and filled with a hope distilled by nearly a century of British control, that the lives three very distinct characters come together. They are Ugwu, a houseboy from a rural background, Olanna, the daughter of a wealthy new-money family, and Richard, an English expatriate, writer, and lover of Nigerian art.
Their story is woven together skillfully by Chimamanda Adichie. Ugwu’s claim in life changes dramatically when he becomes employed the boyfriend of Olanna, Odenigbo, a revolutionary minded academic at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. Soon after adjusting to his new station, Olanna moves in with her partner Odenigbo – Ugwu’s fragile world seems to be ever changing. Richard begins a relationship with Olanna’s sister Kainene around this time and shortly after moves to Nsukka to persue his writing. On Kainene’s request, Olanna invites him into her social circles and he befriends the couple, Ugwu left as the passive observer to the life of his master Odenigbo.
But it is not meant to last. Shadows loom from the colonial past and sieze the infant nation, dragging it into the Nigerian Civil War when the state of Biafra secedes. Ugwu and Olanna are caught in the struggle when Nsukka is one of the first towns to fall, while Robert as an expat is left witnessing atrocities of a war that treats him as invisible. The hopeful atmosphere now blows to fan the flames of a propaganda campeign which drags a short war out into a long one, carrying with it the lives of these three characters. Drama comes to a head during the eventual collapse of Biafra and Ugwu’s fragile existence.
In Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie shows an uncommon talent as a story teller. Her characters are vivid, human, and very dynamic. Their scenery, both beautiful and horrifying. I was gripped by this book and would recommend it highly to anyone looking for an excellent story about the more human side of war.