Thursday, November 02, 2006

Beyond FICTION: HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Awareness promotes understanding, and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie raises awareness of a critical time in Nigerian history in her powerhouse of a second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun. Awareness also promotes tolerance when it reveals how discrimination can lead to destruction on an immense scale. When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria were murdered in mass numbers in the 1960s, a revolution for independence was sparked, lives began to unravel, normalcy for many became a thing of the past. And, as so often remains the case, the international community turned away as innocent men, women, and children were butchered, bombed, or left to starve.

Sound familiar? It’s happening now and will happen again. I read Half of a Yellow Sun and was reminded of the movie Hotel Rwanda and the slaughter of innocents and lack of international assistance documented there. In a Yellow Sun scene in which one of Adichie’s main characters meets two American journalists who’ve arrived to report on the war, Adichie notes “the rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person.” I heard this from black American Civil Rights activists recorded for the Eyes on the Prize documentary. I heard this in a recent interview with Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager portrayed in Hotel Rwanda. And I’m fairly sure many others—like the people of Darfur, Sudan—feel the same way. I read Half of a Yellow Sun and despaired.

I also read Half of a Yellow Sun and marveled at the disconnections Adichie so expertly explored: the separations from family; the emotional crises in a marriage; the loved ones lost to the military or to bombings or to brutal massacres; the loved ones simply lost. And yet hope prevails, because where there are disconnections there are also struggles to reconnect, and sometimes—even for a brief while—those efforts make a difference. The extent to which people often are forced to go—or choose to go—to establish connections (or to bridge the painful void when a disconnection is forced upon them) says something about our innate need to bond and draw strength from one another. All this is mined throughout the pages of Half of a Yellow Sun. While revealing intimate details of individuals affected by war and personalizing war in a creative, memorable manner, Adichie lays it all out—the despair experienced when a loved one is lost to us, the anger that overwhelms when a loved one is taken from us—and challenges the international community not to turn away from the suffering that persists in Africa and elsewhere.

The sisters in Half of a Yellow Sun, beautiful Olanna and tough Kainene, recall their Grandpapa’s belief that “it gets worse and then it gets better. O dikata njo, o dikwa mma.” And in her Author’s Note at the book’s conclusion, Adichie reflects on the way her father “ended his many stories with the words agha ajoka,” which she translates as “war is very ugly.” Adichie notes that “he and my defending and very devoted mother…have always wanted me to know, I think, that what matters is not what they went through but that they survived.” So many survived, and so many will survive the conflicts of today and tomorrow. The fact remains that we as a world continue to fail to find peaceful resolutions to what ails us. It’s this simple, confounding fact that makes books like Half of a Yellow Sun weighted with meaning and crucial to our feeble attempts to comprehend the human condition.

Thanks to Patry Francis over at Simply Wait for recommending Half of a Yellow Sun and then giving me a deadline for finishing it! Read more reviews of this book through Patry’s nifty new Third Day Book Club.


Blogger Crockhead said...

Interesting that we both picked up on the theme of hope prevailing in the midst of despair. I wish we could have a conversation with Adichie to see if that is the theme she was aiming for.

1:18 PM  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

I saw a lot of hope in the character of Olanna. She never lost her essential self or her values no matter
how dire the situation became. Her struggle to care and provide for Baby and to maintain what she could of a normal home under the most desperate conditions filled what could have been a relentlessly dark story with light.

2:14 PM  
Blogger gerry rosser said...

Good review. I suppose there is hope. I also blogged this book today.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Amish, I think hope is all that's left sometimes...Patry, Look what you've started! I love visiting others' blogs to read their takes on this book. How cool is that...Gerry, thanks for the link. Loved your "book report." I have to agree with you that Sun is not the best book I've ever read, but it's certainly memorable. K.

8:00 PM  
Blogger steve on the slow train said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:17 AM  
Blogger steve on the slow train said...

Very thoughtful review, Karen. I'm learning more about the book and finding things I missed with every review I read.I wish I could disagree with your statement that nonwhite lives count for little in the Western media. But as you say, there is always hope.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Sustenance Scout said...

Thanks, Steve! I wish I could disagree with that, too. K.

5:33 PM  

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