Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book had been on my kindle wish list for such a long time that I couldn't remember why I put it there in the first place. The problem with a wish list for me- much the same as buying a load of books in a shop all at once- is that I get bored of seeing the title and tend to be less inclined after a while to actually read it. So, after probably a year since I wish listed it, I decided to give Half of a Yellow Sun a whirl.

Set in Nigeria, the book follows the lives of two adult sisters both before and during the Nigeria-Biafran war of 1967-1970. It was a good lesson in history and taught me something new about a country I didn't know much about.

There was a lot of what I felt was 'setting the scene,' which didn't have me entirely gripped. The first couple of (long) chapters introduced sisters Kainene and Olanna, and gave an insight into their lives and the lives of their partners. The story at this point was mainly about rich Nigerians and even richer expats living the high life, going to parties and having intellectual discussions over brandy. And of course there was the obligatory 'house boy' Ugwu, brought in from the local village to do the house work but treated wonderfully by his nice, well educated master.
Then the action finally kicked off and things got pretty grim. What happened in Nigeria was genocide, an ethnic cleansing of the Igbo population. Pretty scary if you looked a certain way or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The moments of peril and desperation were the best parts- seeing how each person was affected by the war and how they reacted to it. Olanna had to abandon her nice house and live in poverty, amongst neighbours who were often desperate enough to do crazy things. For example, one day her cat disappeared and then later that evening a neighbour served up a unexplainable meaty soup to her family.
The sisters had a volatile relationship throughout the story; at first they simply didn't get along, but after Olanna's unforgivable act they stopped speaking entirely. The non-linear narrative skipping from the early to mid sixties and then back again, helped to add to the mystery and revelations between the sisters.
Both sisters contributed significantly to the war effort: Olanna taught children in a makeshift schoolroom, as well as attempting to keep Ugwu safe from conscription, and Kainene helped to collect and distribute rations. 

Despite all the war related turmoil, the book still wasn't a page turner for me. My main problem was that I didn't care much for the characters. I didn't feel like I knew them well and so it didn't matter particularly what happened to them. Especially some of the peripheral characters who failed to bother me at all when they met their untimely ends.

The story ended with a major question left unanswered. I'm a big fan of loose ends being tied up in novels- you invest too much time in reading to not know what happens. So as you can imagine, I am left feeling pretty cheated.