Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Read-along Complete!

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Winner of the Orange Prize 2007

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The second half of this book was very different from the first. I actually found it quite difficult to read in places, as it was so emotional. The suffering of the Biafran people, as they were murdered, abused and starved was heart breaking to read. This book really highlights the horror of war, the way people abuse their power, and the depths they will stoop to in order to survive.

Sometimes it was the simplest of quotes which conveyed the strongest message:

“How have you been, my brother?”
“We did not die,” he said.

If any further explanation had been given, it would have in some way belittled the events they experienced. If the only good thing you can say is that you did not die then, the magnitude of the devastation is enforced.

In my first post, many of you said that you thought my high opinion of Ugwu would change when I read the final section of the book. I don’t want to give anything away, as I realise that there are still lots of you out there who haven’t read this yet, but Ugwu remains my favourite character. I know he did a terrible thing, but I can understand how peer pressure and war can make people do things they would never normally do. Ugwu felt immense guilt and remorse afterwards, and because of this I will forgive him. It actually makes me feel more compassion for him, as I think he will suffer from the guilt of his actions for the rest of his life.

In my first post I also stated that the female characters didn’t come across very strongly. I have to say that in the second half of the book they came into their own. Each and every one of them showed an inner strength that I admire. By the end of the book I loved every single character in some way. Perhaps it is just that everyone who has had to endure the horrors that they did gains sympathy in my eyes, and are stronger because of the things they have gone through. Is this wrong? Or do you think that war can turn everyone into better people?

The one thing I didn’t like was the way they referred to the six-year-old girl as Baby. For a long time I assumed she was a baby, and it really threw me when I first realised how old she was. This is probably some symbolism I just don’t understand – so please bear with me!

I can’t say that I ever really enjoyed reading this book. I am really pleased that I read it, but the subject matter was so distressing that I don’t feel I can recommend it to everyone. The fear oozes from every word:

The first explosion sounded distant. Others followed, closer, louder, and the earth shook. Voices around her were shouting, ‘Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus!’ Her bladder felt painfully, solidly full, as though it would burst and release not urine but the garbled prayers she was muttering.

This really is an incredible book though, the writing is powerful, the characters realistic and multi-layered – the only thing this book is lacking is happiness.

It will become a classic. Highly recommended.

stars4h

 

 

What did you think of this book?

Will it still be read 50 years from now?

Did you find it distressing to read?


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22 Comments

  1. Violet says:

    yay…I am glad you liked the book. I was a little worried after your previous update, lol!!!

    Ugwu is my fav character too.

  2. Jackie says:

    Violet – Yes, it’s interesting to do posts at the half way point, as this really was a book of two halfs. The beginning was really slow, and I was a bit worried about how good it would be, but it all came through in the end, and I thought the initial character build up was well worth it.

  3. Nicole says:

    I read this last year, I think in November with my book club, and we were all so disappointed with what happened with Ugwu because so many of us loved him. I was just really conflicted between compassion and understanding the way he acted in his circumstances and at the same time really feeling for the other party involved. I thought that the second half was less accessible in a way, but now that you mention it maybe it was because it was so horrific, but I also didn’t really understand why she chose to break up the second half and again go back to the past. That disturbed the flow for me.

    I loved Kainene.

  4. Sandy says:

    I am one of the few that haven’t read this, but I’m sure I’ll find it in my stacks eventually. It has been so well reviewed. I think war brings out the best or the worst in people, which ever is the stronger trait that lies dormant in a person. The hard working family man that became a homicidal camp commandant, or the shy, timid woman who rescues thousands, all as a result of WWII? These people had it in them, I am convinced, it just needed a catalyst to come to the surface.

  5. Jackie says:

    Nicole – I agree with you about Ugwu – I too feel enormous sympathy for the other person – terrible situation.

    I don’t know why she broke up the book either. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but yes, it does break up the flow a bit. Perhaps we just needed a bit of relief from the violence, and she wanted to show us again what they were like before the war.

    It is interesting that you thought the second half was less accessible. I thought that many people might be put off reading the book with the slow introduction, but that the second half was gripping. Perhaps you were just blanking out the violence (I don’t blame you!) so there was little left to hold your attention?

  6. Jackie says:

    Sandy – You’re right – war does bring out the best/worst in people. It is interesting to imagine how the people we know would behave in situations like this – but I don’t ever want to find out.

    Sandy, I think you’d find this book very interesting – I’m sure you’ll be able to draw lots of comparisons between the Biafran War and WWII.

  7. Rebecca Reid says:

    Sounds very good. it’s already on my TBR, so hopefully I’ll get to it someday.

    Maybe the character is called Baby because they never got around to giving her a different name? I haven’t read it but if they’re in the middle of war, that would make sense.

  8. Jackie says:

    Rebecca – Baby does have a real name, which they mention at some point in the book, but they never seem to use it. I’m sure any six year old would get annoyed at being called Baby. Nevermind – it is only a tiny flaw, and I’m sure you’ll love it when you get round to it.

  9. Matthew says:

    I’m glad to hear that the second half is redeeming the book and that you have rated it a 4.5! I’m behind as I’m reading 19th Wife and that I have to finish by Sunday for TLC Book Tour. I’ll pick this up as soon as I’m through with it.

    Off topic: Re: The Master and Margarita, I prefer the translation by Professor Diane Burgin, published under Vintage Contemporary Classics, with a burgundy color cover and a silhouette of the cat. Pavear/Voloronsky translation under Penguins is also good.

    I haven’t read the graphic novel…so it would be very special to read it as my debut graphic novel! :)

  10. Great review. I read this and still can’t get over what war did to all the characters, still I wish I could say that war doesn’t change things and people but it does. My brother has been through a war and he did end up changing, at least in his case the good outweighed the bad. I think it is different if it is your country and you have to stay in it after the devastation. I think war can really bring out the survivor in a person, at least that is what I felt after reading this book.

  11. CBJames says:

    I agree with you about Ugwu. I think I liked him so much that I started to feel a bit fatherly towards him. Of course what he did was horrible, but he is still a child himself when this happens. Hate the action, love the child, I guess. I’m still very impressed with how the author develops this character and presents the complexities of the situation.

    The two women also come into their own by end, the men less so.

    My book club discussed the break in the narrative flow and came to the conclusion that it helps the book overall. I found it made me more anxious to read more to find out both what happened and what was going on.

    I can’t explain why Baby has no name for so long. I think Baby is closely tied symbolically to the nation of Biafra itself. Biagra is not recognized as a nation so, in a sense, it is a country without a name. I’d have to think that through some more.

    It’s a book I’m going to read again someday.

  12. Beth F says:

    I join Sandy in the ranks of those who haven’t read it yet. I’m sure it will show up in my TBR one of these days, but I generally don’t read war books (of any sort).

  13. Beth F says:

    Can I amend my comment? I read about fake wars a lot.

  14. softdrink says:

    Excellent review. Definitely not a book that is enjoyable, but still worthy of reading. I agree with your statement about it becoming a classic.

    I had the same feelings about the Ugwu incident…but I still don’t feel like I can say I liked any of the characters by the end of the book. And maybe that’s because I also can’t identify with them.

  15. Jackie says:

    Matthew – I’m interested to hear your thoughts on 19th Wife as I was in two minds about it – half was good, half not so good.
    Thank you for the M&M info – I’ll be reading it soon.

    Bethany – Yes, it is amazing how much everyone changed after the expeirence of war. I’m pleased your brother made it through a war, and hope he doesn’t suffer from any problems as a result of it – I can imagine that is something you would never entirely get over.

  16. Jackie says:

    Beth – sorry – I don’t think you can edit comments.

    Do you not like reading things set during a real war?

    softdrink – I’m sorry you didn’t identify with any of the characters. I didn’t initially, but by the end of the book I could relate to all of them to some extent.

  17. Lu says:

    This was one of my favorite reads of 2008. I loved it! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I agree with your feelings about Ugwu. It was so hard to watch him do what he did. This was one of those books that had me up late into the night reading and rereading. Great review!

  18. Jackie says:

    Lu – I couldn’t read this late at night – it would give me nightmares!

  19. claire says:

    Finally, I’ve finished. :) I think this could easilly become a classic. I didn’t feel distressed reading this, I’m not really sure why. Maybe it has to do with having read too many books about war of late. (What is the What, The Cellist of Sarajevo, De Niro’s Game, among others.) True, the events described were horrifying, but I think it’s because I expected them that I didn’t feel shocked nor surprised at anything that happened.

    I very much loved this book. It was a wonderful read. I can’t wait to read more Adichie. I was only a little surprised that it didn’t elicit as much emotion from me as What is the What and De Niro’s Game did (which both made me cry buckets). But I think this was much more elegantly written than those two, though.

    Ugwu was also my favourite character. I really liked how he developed, and I’m certainly very forgiving of what he did. After all, it was obvious that he didn’t want to do it. It was just out of peer pressure that he found no other choice but. If he were an older man, I would probably be disgusted with him, but as it is, and only a child, I can only sympathize about how so innocently unaware he was of so many things, about choices and consequences.

    I felt the breaks in between enhanced my reading experience. While the events that occurred were hinted at, and I could guess what they were, the tension built up more progressively that way.

  20. Jackie says:

    Claire – It is interesting to hear that you weren’t affected by it. I found it to be just as harrowing as the Cellist of Sarajevo. Maybe you do have compassion fatigue?

    I didn’t cry at all, but that is quite rare for me. I am intrigued by De Niro’s game – I wonder if it can make me cry?

    I’m off to read your review now – thanks for reading along with me!

  21. sonny alofe says:

    This book described Yoraba people as “first-rate lickspittles”; the greatest lickspittle during the civil war was an Igbo man – Nnamdi Azikiwe.
    This book tend to look at things from the Igbo perspective alone

  22. Jackie says:

    sonny alofe – You are right, it does tend to focus on the Igbo perspective. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the conflict other than what is written in this book. What am I missing out on? I’d love to hear more about it, from someone who has a greeater understanding than me. Thank you for aking the time to comment on my blog, and I hope you can enlighten us a bit more about the Yoraba people.

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