Half of a Yellow Sun - book cover
  • Publisher : Anchor
  • Published : 04 Sep 2007
  • Pages : 543
  • ISBN-10 : 1400095204
  • ISBN-13 : 9781400095209
  • Language : English

Half of a Yellow Sun

From the award-winning, bestselling author of Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists-a haunting story of love and war • Recipient of the Women's Prize for Fiction "Winner of Winners" award

With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra's impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor's beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover's charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna's willful twin sister Kainene.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.

Editorial Reviews

"A gorgeous, pitiless account of love, violence and betrayal during the Biafran war." -Time

"Instantly enthralling. . . . Vivid. . . . Powerful . . . A story whose characters live in a changing wartime atmosphere, doing their best to keep that atmosphere at bay." -The New York Times

"Ingenious. . . . [With] searching insight, compassion and an unexpected yet utterly appropriate touch of wit, Adichie has created an extraordinary book." -Los Angeles Times

"Brilliant. . . . Adichie entwines love and politics to a degree rarely achieved by novelists. . . . That is what great fiction does–it simultaneously devours and ennobles, and in its freely acknowledged invention comes to be truer than the facts upon which it is built." -Elle

Readers Top Reviews

Nigel WalkerCaitlin
I came across this novel by accident in a review and read it partly because I knew little of the detail of Biafra despite it often being in the news along with Vietnam during my teenage years. I enjoyed the characters immensely and found them alive and believable which gave me concern for them and engagement in their lives and fate. Sadly the human factors that create war are still there... our fear of the "other", our jealousy and passion, our ignorance and prejudice and our violent reactions to all of these. An interesting book in these times of worldwide political change and insecurity...
Roman ClodiaMaja
I'm so conflicted about this book which I desperately wanted to love: it's an important story and one that, as Adichie herself says, needs to be told by an African writer - but my feeling is that the story of Biafra is too huge to be contained within a 400pp. 'popular' novel that also wants to tell personal stories of two couples, fraught family relationships, the education of a 'house-boy'... There are times when this got too soapy for my tastes and the result is a kind of historically-lite tale that presses an awful lot of standard fictional buttons. I guess I wanted more in-depth politics: the lead up to the secession of Biafra is quite powerfully done - but then suddenly it just exists and is at war and things get vague - we learn, for example, that there are Biafran car number-plates, a separate currency but no sense of any of these markers of a new state being established. And I wanted to understand more about the role of oil which, we learn, Biafra is still extracting and refining under the bombing of the Nigerian forces. Even the famous famine doesn't feel as visceral as it should as there's so much else going on - not least the enforced conscription of a main character at about 80% into the book. Even Adichie's writing style seems to become more panoramic: at the start, it's vivid and immediate with very little exposition, and character being expressed via what people do and say. As the story proceeds, it becomes a bit more 'told' - though I like the fact that there is no omniscient narrator and we have a sense of contingency and reaction. Overall, this is undoubtedly both ambitious and also a personally important topic for Adichie herself - I liked it but just didn't love it as much as I wanted.
I loved this book, it's now firmly in my top 10 of all time. It's beautiful and visceral and funny and devastating. Adichie is seriously talented, it feels as if every word is just... perfectly chosen. I loved all the characters (especially Ugwu) and the way they all develop realistically over the course of the book. I've never been to Nigeria, but the setting and characters felt closer and more real to me than any book I've read set in wartime Europe, which is really impressive (to me as a European). It's also a perfect example of historical fiction - you come away with a nuanced understanding of a time and place you'll never experience in real life.
M. C. Buell
A stirring, heartbreaking account of the Nigerian Civil War, as seen through the eyes of three very different characters. The novel starts in the early sixties, not long after the end of British colonial rule, presenting a nation, Nigeria, that did not exist before the British invented it. As the British continue to meddle in the shadows, the disparate peoples of newly independent Nigeria are left to figure out how to coexist. We are introduced to this world by Ugwu, a village boy who has just landed a coveted position as a houseboy for a university professor, Odenigbo. Through the perspectives of Ugwu, Odenigbo’s lover Olanna, and British expat Richard, the story of the rise and horrific fall of the breakaway state of Biafra is told. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings this terrible story to life in clear, powerful prose, and creates fully human characters, with all the flaws and internal inconsistencies inherent in the human condition. Ugwu is easy to sympathize with, though he never questions his position, and often has little sympathy for others. Expat Richard is a good man who desperately wants to be seen as different from the other white men in the country, but can not grasp the extent of his privilege. Odenigbo and his band of academics are full of revolutionary zeal, but steadfastly refuse to consider what consequences the realization of their ideals might bring. One of the things I really liked was the dichotomy between twin sisters Olanna and Kainene. Olanna is the more outwardly idealistic of the pair, the one who makes a show of eschewing her family’s status to move in with her academic lover, while fatalistic Kainene takes over aspects of the family’s sprawling business interests. When the war breaks out Olanna suffers much more than her sister, who rides out most of the conflict in relative comfort. But it’s Kainene who sees with clearer eyes and uses her privilege to render aid, while Olanna never manages to rid herself of her bourgeois haughtiness. This is a novel written by an Igbo author about Igbo characters, and the atrocities committed against the majority Igbo Biafrans by the Nigerians are well known and well documented, but Adichie here has the courage not to show the Igbo as entirely blameless. Biafra has its own corruption, and the Igbo commit their own atrocities born out of prejudice. We have a tendency to simplify historic wars, to gloss over complexities and hide from truths that don’t fit easily within the prevailing narrative. In Half of a Yellow Sun Adichie thankfully doesn’t do this.
Liberty Dog Producti
Half of a Yellow Sun is historical fiction and a fine-written novel. It concerns the history of Nigeria and the war. The characters are very well developed and very interesting. Adichie is a fabulous writer. The story is never boring and there were some interesting character viewpoints. One point of interest was discovering the anti-Semitism that existed within Nigeria or the outright ignorance of some of Nigeria's citizens. A long Muslim vs Christian war or battle has had a terrible effect on Nigeria. The use of oppressive tactics akin to Hitler's 3rd Reich was used within Nigeria to squelch the Christian intellectual party and its citizens by a brutal regime of ignorant religious extremists who oppress girls and women, and hinder educational systems. This is absolutely a fabulously written account with historical facts that is written with fictionally orientated characters to add dynamic realism and dimensions. Adichi herself, is highly intelligent, brilliant, and a prize writer from Nigeria. The book has over 500 pages, so expect to spend some time digesting the contents and comprehending some of Nigeria's immense history. Adichi is one of your better writers on the market.

Short Excerpt Teaser

Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair. Ugwu's aunty said this in a low voice as they walked on the path. "But he is a good man," she added. "And as long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day." She stopped to spit; the saliva left her mouth with a sucking sound and landed on the grass.Ugwu did not believe that anybody, not even this master he was going to live with, ate meat every day. He did not disagree with his aunty, though, because he was too choked with expectation, too busy imagining his new life away from the village. They had been walking for a while now, since they got off the lorry at the motor park, and the afternoon sun burned the back of his neck. But he did not mind. He was prepared to walk hours more in even hotter sun. He had never seen anything like the streets that appeared after they went past the university gates, streets so smooth and tarred that he itched to lay his cheek down on them. He would never be able to describe to his sister Anulika how the bungalows here were painted the color of the sky and sat side by side like polite well-dressed men, how the hedges separating them were trimmed so flat on top that they looked like tables wrapped with leaves.His aunty walked faster, her slippers making slap-slap sounds that echoed in the silent street. Ugwu wondered if she, too, could feel the coal tar getting hotter underneath, through her thin soles. They went past a sign, ODIM STREET, and Ugwu mouthed street, as he did whenever he saw an English word that was not too long. He smelled something sweet, heady, as they walked into a compound, and was sure it came from the white flowers clustered on the bushes at the entrance. The bushes were shaped like slender hills. The lawn glistened. Butterflies hovered above."I told Master you will learn everything fast, osiso-osiso," his aunty said. Ugwu nodded attentively although she had already told him this many times, as often as she told him the story of how his good fortune came about: While she was sweeping the corridor in the mathematics department a week ago, she heard Master say that he needed a houseboy to do his cleaning, and she immediately said she could help, speaking before his typist or office messenger could offer to bring someone."I will learn fast, Aunty," Ugwu said. He was staring at the car in the garage; a strip of metal ran around its blue body like a necklace."Remember, what you will answer whenever he calls you is Yes, sah!""Yes, sah!" Ugwu repeated.They were standing before the glass door. Ugwu held back from reaching out to touch the cement wall, to see how different it would feel from the mud walls of his mother's hut that still bore the faint patterns of molding fingers. For a brief moment, he wished he were back there now, in his mother's hut, under the dim coolness of the thatch roof; or in his aunty's hut, the only one in the village with a corrugated iron roof.His aunty tapped on the glass. Ugwu could see the white curtains behind the door. A voice said, in English, "Yes? Come in."They took off their slippers before walking in. Ugwu had never seen a room so wide. Despite the brown sofas arranged in a semicircle, the side tables between them, the shelves crammed with books, and the center table with a vase of red and white plastic flowers, the room still seemed to have too much space. Master sat in an armchair, wearing a singlet and a pair of shorts. He was not sitting upright but slanted, a book covering his face, as though oblivious that he had just asked people in."Good afternoon, sah! This is the child," Ugwu's aunty said.Master looked up. His complexion was very dark, like old bark, and the hair that covered his chest and legs was a lustrous, darker shade. He pulled off his glasses. "The child?""The houseboy, sah.""Oh, yes, you have brought the houseboy. I kpotago ya." Master's Igbo felt feathery in Ugwu's ears. It was Igbo colored by the sliding sounds of English, the Igbo of one who spoke English often."He will work hard," his aunty said. "He is a very good boy. Just tell him what he should do. Thank, sah!"Master grunted in response, watching Ugwu and his aunty with a faintly distracted expression, as if their presence made it difficult for him to remember something important. Ugwu's aunty patted Ugwu's shoulder, whispered that he should do well, and turned to the door. After she left, Master put his glasses back on and faced his book, relaxing further into a slanting position, legs stretched out. Even when he turned the pages he did so with his eyes on the book.Ugwu stood by the door, waiting. Sunlight streamed in through the windows, and from time to t...