Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half a Yellow Sun took me ages to finish. And it's not because it's not a good book or didn't hold my interest, even if it was perhaps just a bit too long, but more because so much other reading came up in the mean time. Work and school reading meant that I had to keep putting the book down and picking it back up again days, weeks, months even, after I started.
On the whole, it's a complex, well-written story about the grown twin daughters of a wealthy Nigerian couple who profited from the fall of colonialism. As civil unrest tears the country apart, and the nation of Biafra fights for its independence, the two sisters are torn in different directions, both personal and political. The story moves back and forwards in the year or two before the war, and then tells of their struggles during the three years between 1967 and 1970 when Biafra became nation consistently struggling against Nigerian forces that refuse to recognize its status.
Kainene, who falls in love with a British man named Richard, fails to support the cause until an event happens that changes her outlook forever. Then she removes herself from the coastal city of Port Harcourt, and she and Richard run a refugee camp until the end of the war. There are personal difficulties, between Kainene and her sister that run throughout the book. Kainene, plain, tall, thin, regal, is plain compared to her beautiful sister. Not that this defines their relationship, but it sets them on very different paths in the years leading up to and during the war.
Olanna and her husband Odenigbo flee from their home in a university town to places that become harder and harder for them to survive within. They are revolutionaries who believe in the cause, who support the new Biafran government, who teach the noble reasons for the uprising to the children who surround them, starving and malnourished, many of whom die from the lack of food when the relief trucks are stopped at the border. Not without her own personal problems, Olanna fights to keep her daughter, Baby, healthy, and watches as her husband falls deeper and deeper into depression.
The other main character within the novel, concerns a house boy who grows up during the course of the book, Ugwu, who works for Odenigbo and Olanna. His story truly forms the heart of the book, from the girl he loves from a distance back in his village, to the terror he feels each time a bomb stops life in its tracks.
The Nigerian entry in my Around the World in 52 Books, Half a Yellow Sun is certainly a novel about an important (to use such a trite word feels wrong, somehow) time in the country's history. I learned so much about the struggle, was shocked and saddened by the events in the novel, and felt a quiet strength in the author's words. The sentences aren't fancy, symbolism doesn't fall off the page, but the stark reality of the events themselves drive the narrative in a way that shows the wisdom and tenacious ability of the writer. Epic would be a good word to describe this novel, and I am so glad I finally finished, for it's the kind of book that truly reminds you of the importance of reading in the first place.