Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


I love that moment when you read the first sentence of a book and you know that you are immediately hooked. Your eyes widen, your hands clench the book a little tighter and you feel yourself sinking into the words... That's exactly the way I felt when I opened Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I love historical fiction and I am particularly interested in recent African history at the moment, so the fact that this book caught my eye is a no-brainer, but there is SO much more to it than that (more about that a bit further down).

Half of a Yellow Sun is set in Nigeria in the early and late 60's, before, during and a little after the civil war that ensued after Biafra attempts to secede from the rest of the state of Nigeria. Adichie takes us from the independence from Great Britain in 1960, through the military coups that follow, the rising ethnic clashes and violence (specifically against the Igbo) and resulting secession and declaration of independence of Biafra and it's struggle to survive amidst a civil war that breaks out. We follow the story through the eyes and words of five very strong characters: Ugwu, a houseboy who comes to work for the revolutionary university professor Odenigbo; Odenigbo's lover, the beautiful and well-educated Olanna; Olanna's twin sister Kainene; and Kainene's lover Richard, the Englishman who makes his way to Nigeria to write about Igbo art, and falls in love with both the country and Kainene.The story weaves through these characters lives and portrays an image of life in Nigeria before the war: the passion of the Igbo and the creation of their own state, the interactions with life in the villages, life within the urban middle-class and the remaining British ex-pats who keep themselves away from the Nigerian population, hanging on to what is left of the colony days. Adichie provides us with a beautiful story of love, hatred, war, death and humanity (as well as inhumanity).

There is no need to be interested in African history to enjoy this novel, although if you are it is definitely a must-read. Adichie's prose is pretty much sublime in my opinion - she builds such a passionate story line, and develops her characters so intensely well that you are standing there with them all the way, hurting when they hurt, laughing when they laugh, falling in love when they fall in love. My favourite character (after much deliberation) is Ugwu, the young boy who becomes an indispensable part of the family that hires him. I also love Olanna's fierce independence that is coupled with her fear of losing everything she loves... Each character is completely human, imperfect and real, I feel like there is a part of everyone in all of them. There are many difficult parts, specifically the descriptions of massacres, rape, death and starvation, but all are important in understanding the complexity of the situation and the passion of the people to be free of outside, controlling power.

I cried a lot reading this book, and it probably wasn't a good idea to finish it on my subway ride back home last night, with tears running down my face; and many a time I felt like I was being punched in the stomach, but all the same, I couldn't stop reading. I could literally see and smell the country through the words, and this is something that I admire so much in a writer - the ability to really create a world that I have never seen before right before my eyes. Adichie is only a year older than me, and I feel like she has created a beauty of a novel, set in very disturbing times. I can't wait to read her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, and her collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. So very inspiring.

More information:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's website

Articles: Some interesting articles from today's paper


 Work is quiet so I just spent the last hour reading through today's paper, looking for something to write about... I started off with one article and ended up with 5, so instead of writing multiple posts about each one, I thought it would make more sense to make one post and provide my own comments/opinions. Most articles come from the New York Times, but I've added other similar articles from other sources in some places. It's quite Middle East-heavy, but, then again, why wouldn't it be?

Afghan rape case is brought before the authorities (NYT article can be found HERE)
I've followed the plight of women in Afghanistan for many years now, long before 9/11 and the US invasion of the country. In the late 90's (I think) Marie Claire published an article about the treatment of women by the ruling Taliban power, something that most news outlets never bothered with, forcing the world to acknowledge there was a real problem in the country. Remember the recording of public execution that was released to world, taken via stealth, the camera concealed beneath a burqa by RAWA in 1999? That was some amazing investigative journalism - because if the reporter had been captured, he/she would probably have been executed in the same fashion. The video was sent to different press outlets at the time, none of which wanted to publish it because of it's ability to shock the world. However, when foreign forces invaded Afghanistan, all of a sudden it was all over the news. Yes, we went in to save these women that a year before we were turning a blind eye to. Nothing more than the usual hypocrisy of the world, another country's plight only becomes important to us when we actually have something to gain in said country. Anyway, this article is interesting because it portrays a few different points; one being that in certain places the laws haven't really changed, even if the Taliban has lost most of its stronghold. Another being that instead of following the unwritten law of the ages, the victim's family have decided to bring it to the public and gain their daughter's honour back by seeking justice via trial.
What we all tend to forget is that Afghanistan is a very unique country, where different ethnic groups/tribes live together, all with different rules of living, many unwritten. In many places, especially remote, rural areas, the honour of the family remains of most utter importance. To destroy or tarnish that honour means certain death, as death is the only way to rectify the balance, and restore the lost honour. To us this may sound backwards and horrific, but this is the way it works, and has worked for generations. I find it admirable that Lal Bibi is looking for her kidnappers and rapists to be brought to justice WITH the support of her family. I hope that they succeed, because if they don't, she will die, either at the hands of her family, or by her own hands (as seen in the article). What a brave, brave woman.

Mubarak is sentenced to life in prison (NYT article can be found HERE)
Life in prison for the deaths of the unarmed protesters last year, however, all charges of corruption were dropped. I'm honestly not really surprised at either ruling, although I think that it is interesting that the police commanders who gave the orders to shoot at the crowds were acquitted. Surely there were more than two people who were responsible for all of the deaths? In any case, I suppose at least some sort of justice has been done, even if the country is still without a democratically elected government (when will those promised elections ever take place?!), although how real this justice is will be seen if the ruling doesn't fall down on appeal. With all other charges having been revoked, if Mubarak wins on appeal he could walk away a free man.
What I found the most interesting about this article is the comment section. They go from right to left, zig-zagging through different opinions, some highly well thought-out and others just plain stupid and actually laughable. Yes, Mubarak was a US ally, but that doesn't make him a saint, does it? Let's all think back to the lovely Shah of Iran people and look at what the good that did to the world. Mubarak wasn't all evil, but he outstayed his welcome for more than a few presidential terms, and stole way too much money from the people he was supposed to be protecting to not be punished for it.
For those commenting on how the world is letting fundamentalists take the power in Egypt by the removal of Mubarak: if this happens, then it is what happens. The Egyptian people fought for change, and will probably stand up and fight again if they feel the government they elect is not acting in their best interest. In the end, we don't have a say what should happen in Egypt - it's up to the Egyptian people to decide what to do. The median age in Egypt is 24 years old, meaning that the population is young and will not stand for any further domination. I'm interested to see how it all plays out in this country. Read all those comments - it's highly entertaining to say the least.
BBC News articles on the same subject HERE.

Russia refuses intervention in Syria (NYT article can be found HERE)
Quelle surprise! Although I am completely against any type of outside military intervention in Syria, I do feel that more pressure should be put on Assad to stop the massacres that seem to be happening on a regular basis in Syria these days. Then again, I understand the plight: if he listens to the UN and withdraws his troops from the areas of uprising it will most definitely lead to civil war. I mean, he could stand down, and be replaced by a democratically elected president, haha, but we all know that is not going to happen. If he continues to let his troops massacre men, women and children in villages it will just create a louder uproar around the world. It appears that the bloodshed is not going to end too soon, and we may just have to sit back and watch it happen. Although, I have no doubt that the West is already smuggling weapons and agents into Syria, and helping the rebels.
Another article on the subject, BBC this time, can be found HERE.

Oh, by the way, there is renewed fighting in the North Kivu area of the DRC, strongly reminiscent of what happened in 2008, see the Al Jazeera article HERE. As always, no one really cares about what is happening in this country, even after years and years of civil war and millions of deaths. It breaks my heart that it is still happening.

Last, but not least, American nuns fight back against the Vatican criticism they face (NYT article can be found HERE).
Interesting how the Vatican plays down all of the child abuse allegations and insists on covering them up, while at the same time accuses a large group of American nuns of challenging "church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” So it's OK for priests to sexually abuse children, but it's not OK to promote free healthcare for all?! Because, oh no, this may promote the usage of birth control, and even worse, abortion! In essence this criticism goes completely against all of the real teachings of Christianity. My own thoughts on religion aside (having had a mix of Anglican, Catholic and free spirit education in my youth I decided to go with the latter, without scorning any of the former), I think this is highly despicable. Nuns dedicate their lives to educating and helping others, while giving up everything to live with their faith. The Vatican condemning them for promoting homosexuality and feminism is just plain old gender bigotry. It's time for the Vatican to get with the times and stop acting like they have the right to twist religion in a way that suits them best. Religious freedom means that we have the right to choose our religion and to live by it in the way we see fit. There is no place in this world anymore, or at least in the world I imagine, for men to dictate how women should live their lives. If these nuns are promoting radical feminism, then I really wonder what my views would be called! More radical than radical? I'm SO happy these nuns are taking a stand and continuing to promote what they believe in.



Megan K. Stack - Every Man In This Village Is A Liar



Megan K. Stack - Every Man In This Village Is A Liar

I picked this up at St Mark's Bookshop a few weeks ago as it had a lot of those elements that make me grab a book, pay for it and start reading it immediately: woman writer, war correspondent, autobiography, Middle-East...

I finished it over a week ago and haven't really stopped thinking about it since, and I've come to the conclusion that I can't make my mind up about what I think. This statement probably only makes sense inside my head, so I invite everyone to read it and let me know what you think. It's sometimes easier to talk about a book when someone else has their own opinions you can bounce yours off.

Megan Stack is a foreign correspondent who works for the LA Times. and has covered some of the main events (for events see mainly wars) in the Middle East over the past decade. Her book describes her personal experiences and views of the invasion of Iraq, life in Saudia Arabia and Libya, Jerusalem and the West Bank, Jordan, the invasion of Afghanistan and the removal of the Taliban, civil war in Iraq, elections in Egypt...
Megan really doesn't hold back, and for that I am grateful. I found her at times insanely brave, and others irritating, but in the end, so human. My favourite part is Megan's remembrance of Atwar Bahjat, the female al-Jazeera reporter who was murdered in an ambush in 2006. I tend to use Atwar Bahjat as an example to counter-attack a generic statement that "all Muslim women are oppressed" that I hear too often in these parts of the world, so it was interesting (and terribly sad) to read her first hand experience as her friend, and then her death.

Last of all, I have to say, this book is unsettling. It rocks your beliefs somewhat (whatever those beliefs may be). Just a warning - it's far from an easy read.

Still can't form a real clear opinion. Maybe that is just the way it's going to be with this book.