Half of a Yellow Sun is a widely-acclaimed and best-selling novel written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of another best-selling novel called Purple Hibiscus. The title represents the foundation of Biafra, one of the main topics of the book, and was the symbol represented on the state’s flag. Half of a Yellow Sun is a moving story of the lives of characters whocome from different social backgrounds, yet are united when war strikes. Set in Nigeria, the book perfectly describes the setting and builds up a strong atmosphere before the start of a bloody conflict.
The story shifts the viewpoint between several characters: firstly, we meet Ugwu, a boy who comes from an impoverished village, but who is given the opportunity to become a houseboy and work for a university professor called Odenigbo. Through this, the reader is introduced to Olanna. She comes from a far different background, abandoning the chance to continue managing her parents’ business in order to live with Odenigbo. Olanna’s sarcastic and dry-humoured sister, Kaiene, is also involved in an affair, with an Englishman named Richard. As the reader is introduced to the main characters, one can begin to establish an idea of the situation in Nigeria in the Sixties. Importantly, we can do so from several different perspectives, too.
The reader follows Ugwu as he matures throughout the book, but is also able to see the action from a different perspective – the narrative is frequently switched to Olanna, and at one point to Richard, which further allows the reader to note the character development, as well as recounting some background information.
The reader will also be able to experience the shocking transition between peacetime and war – the complex love triangle that develops between some of the main characters will seem pale in comparison to some of the graphic descriptions of war which are provided by the author. For example, people in the village suddenly become "vaguely familiar clothes on headless bodies”. In fact, the author is very effective at describing some of the more disturbing scenes in the book; this really helps relay to the reader the atrocities of war. The author is also capable of mixing this with a more poignant style of description:
Later, the four boys had stopped playing war and had gone inside when Ugwu heard the thin, strangled wail
from the classroom at the end of the building. He knew that that child’s aunty would come out soon and
bravely tell the people nearby, that the mother would throw herself in the dirt and roll and shout until she lost her voice,
and then she would take a razor and leave her scalp bare and bleeding. He put on his singlet and went out to offer to
help dig the small grave.
At the same time, the author is able to depict humorous scenes. It is difficult to imagine how humour could be incorporated into such a story, but once again the author excels at this. This book is divided into several parts: some focusing on the Early Sixties, others on the relationships between the characters in general. Sandwiched in between these are the parts of the book which describe the late Sixties and the action during the war. The reader sees the characters from a completely different perspective during these parts. In many ways, the book is structured like a movie, with the action and the narrative completely changing. This gives the book a very intense and emotional feel, and the reader is sure to experience this if he/she delves into the book enough.
This book is structured very well, with plentiful description and captivating dialogue (the final dialogue between Odenigbo and Olanna is a testament to this). The mature and unusual way in which Adichie captivates the reader is one of the reasons the book received the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in 2007. I feel this is fully justified. Whilst some people might find the book a little too much at times, those who finish it will experience a captivating journey into human nature and war.