I hardly know where to start writing about Half of a Yellow Sun. It is so brutal, and so powerful. Apparently Iím not the only one who really isnít quite sure where to start; thereís no Wikipedia article about it yet, in spite of the fact that it won this yearís Orange Prize.
Before reading this novel, I knew very little about the Biafran War/Nigerian Civil War/Nigeria-Biafra War (whichever name you prefer Ė Adichie seems to prefer the latter). I kept setting aside the book, both to look up information about the war and to process what was happening in the narrative.
I think Iím most impressed by Adichieís ability to realistically portray the everyday lives of people living in turbulent times. Aside from finding themselves in the middle of a war, the characters have very different ideas, traditions and lifestyles, depending on whether theyíre older or younger, wealthy or poor, black or white, African or English, educated or illiterate. I loved this diverse look at the people of this time and place, and it was fascinating to see how they all keep trying to live as normally as possible in spite of the upheaval of war.
The narrative switches back and forth from the early to late Sixties a few times, and I found this hard to follow. I donít think itís a flaw in the novel so much as that I realize I just have a very linear way of thinking. I would have had an easier time with a strictly chronological story. The last several chapters, though, just pound straight through to the end of the war, and these chapters are so devastating that I felt emotionally bruised for hours after finishing the book.
Half of a Yellow Sun is definitely one of the best books I've read this year.