Once in a while you come across a book that will stay with you for a long time after you’ve finished it. Half of a Yellow Sun is one of those books. Even though its subject material is heavy and complex, it drew me in and wouldn’t let me go.
I started reading it on a long train ride from Lyon to Brussels. By the time I’d arrived in Brussels I was well beyond 200 pages into the book. The next day, on our flight to New York, I read another big chunk of it. I finally finished it a week later on our flight back. It’s very intense reading material and I must admit that I’ve had a few bad dreams because of it, but I just had to finish it.
What makes this book so good is a combination of a fascinating, though at times gruelling piece of history that’s not often written about, but above all it’s Adichie’s beautiful writing style. From page 1 it just grabs you and keeps you wanting more.
Apart from telling a family’s story, it also tells the story of a tragic and short lived nation, that barely had the chance to ever really begin. Biafra is a word that, for most people, will always be connected to the notion of famine and conjures images of emaciated children with swollen bellies. But most people don’t know the story behind these images, are not aware of the conflicts that preceded and ultimately led to that situation.
Even though I love history and would consider myself to be reasonably well read, in this instance I, too, belonged to this majority that didn’t really have a clue about the tragic history of Nigeria and Biafra in that early post-colonial period. This is why I feel this book is so important, not just as a work of fiction, but as a way of making a reasonably unknown period of history accessible to a large number of people.
It has made me interested in a country that I had previously known very little about, and I am sure that I will be reading more about Nigeria sometime in the future.
I would definitely recommend this book to everyone.