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By Simphiwe Rens

Book Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Through the eyes of a young servant, Ugwu, and a set of affluent and highly networked twin sisters – Olanna and Kainene – Chimamanda, in this book, takes us on an intricate journey of intertwined relationships in a time of war within 1960s Nigeria. The piece exquisitely explores issues of love and interconnectedness often through a lens complexly tinted with shades of politics, socio-ethnical and socio-economic realities.Ugwu, as a thirteen-year-old and very little educated village boy is given the opportunity to work as a ‘house boy’ for a very intelligent ‘Master’ (a mathematics professor by the name Odenigbo) from whom Ugwu not only learns to speak better English but Odegnigbo also teaches Ugwu a lot of life lessons which results in a very sincere father-son-like relationship.
A relationship soon to be ‘invaded’ by Olanna (Odegnibo’s love interest) and it is from this point on that the book embarks on a spine-tingling and breath-taking journey delivered in such thought-provoking prose which left me literally gasping for air as I found myself emotionally embroiled in this absolute page turner. For the first time in a long time did I find myself completely in the moment and ‘there’; in the midst of all that transpires in the stories of these well-written, wholesome characters.

Chamamanda’s writing shows off a brilliant capability which I admire in a writer: the art of effective description and a painting of mental imagery so striking, it rendered me awkwardly emotional while engulfed in certain scenes; more especially the scenes of brutal acts of war crimes; don’t get me started on the extremely saucy descriptions of numerous sexual moments that had me constantly looking over my shoulder or to the person sitting next to me in a taxi out of sheer uneasiness. On a slightly less optimistic tip – which by no means should be viewed as an entirely bad thing – I did find that some of the details of war were stretched and repeated to a point that felt, for me personally, a tad bit exaggerated as they just come at you like unexpected waves of ice cold ocean water.

That being sad, Half of a Yellow Sun is definitely one of the best pieces of African literature which truly makes me proud to be an African. The book forces a strong sense of socio-political consciousness on the reader; more so if you are of the African continent and possess a keen interest in our history.

My rating: 8/10

I rate this book a solid eight out ten because of its brilliantly delivered exploration of stories so gripping, they’ll leave even the least emotional reader just a tad bit touched, haunted or even in desperate need of therapy – Okay, I kid!. This could have easily scored a higher rating if only the ending hadn’t left me feeling so, I don’t know, so emotionally void but take my word for it, this book is a definite must-read, my fellow TransAfrican.

Lesson from the book: In such times of disturbingly frightening socio-political occurrences in various countries across the continent of Africa, Half of a Yellow Sun teaches us to stop, think and re-evaluate our rage, hatred and disheartening behaviours of racism, inter-religious hostility and xenophobia (among others) that sees our brothers and sisters doing unimaginable things unto each other.

Interesting Facts: A 2013 movie adaptation of the book is available and I cautiously encourage you to watch it. The movie does not, as is the case with numerous flicks adapted from brilliant pieces of literature; satisfactorily capture what I believe are raw instances of beautifully-written characters that you have to experience through the book for a stronger connection. But one understands that as an aspirant, ever-hustling and busy TransAfrican, you may not have time to spend two days reading through all 433 pages and would instead take up two hours to view the motion picture. Well, that’s absolutely up to you!