Half of a Yellow Sun – Thoughts at the half way point

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Winner of the Orange Prize 2007




On reflection the half way point is a terrible place to stop and write notes on this book. I should have chosen a place about a third of the way in, when the characters had just been introduced, before the horrific events start to take place. Having not read the book I wasn’t to know this, and so I’ll have to make the most of it, and try to form some opinions, despite being in the middle of the fast paced devastation taking place in the book at the moment.

The book did not progress as I expected it too. The writing style was different to Purple Hibiscus, in that it seemed more complex, and instead of focusing on one central character we are introduced to lots of different ones, who don’t seem to have anything in common. The build up was very slow, and I was beginning to wonder why people rave about this book so much, as it didn’t have much appeal initially.

The female characters don’t appear to be as strong as the male ones at this half way point. Perhaps this is just a reflection of the African nation, where men take a more dominant role in society, but the female characters are coming across as quite vague and hard to relate to at this stage.

My favourite character is Ugwu. He is a boy from a poor village, who goes to work as a houseboy for a university lecturer. I especially loved the scene at the start of the book where he goes to his Master’s house for the first time, and is excited by the food and running water he finds there:

Ugwu turned off the tap, turned it on again, then off. On and off and on and off until he was laughing at the magic of the  running water and the chicken and bread that lay balmy in his stomach.

Scenes like this remind us of how lucky we are in the west to have basic luxuries like running water in our homes.

The pace of the book has picked up a lot in the last few chapters. The scenes of violence are disturbing, and my heart is often in my mouth as I read the words. I can only imagine that it is going to get much worse in the final half of the book. My only wish is that Ugwu survives to the end, and has a promising future predicted.

What are your thoughts on the first half of the book?

Is it how you expected it to be? Are you enjoying it?

Who is your favourite character?

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  1. Sandy says:

    Huh. I’m not reading this, but I’m anxiously following along. I have heard SO MUCH about this book, all glowing. So what the heck? Perhaps its just because you are at the halfway point. Only time will tell I guess if it improves…

  2. Jackie says:

    Sandy – I am really enjoying reading this book now. I guess it was built up a bit too much for me. I was expecting a 5/5 for this one, and there was a point a few chapters in where I thought it might not scrape a 4/5. Perhaps everything will change by the time I get to the end, but at the moment it is a solid 4/5.

  3. softdrink says:

    As much as I love this book, by the end of the book I didn’t really like any of the characters. Kainene…self-centered and distant. Ugwu…yes, but due to a later scene, I just can’t call him my fav. Olanna…she gets better, but still…that whole priveleged upper middle class thing is a bit irritating. Odenigbo…keep reading there, too, and you’ll see why I don’t care for him. And Richard. Gah.

    The war really has an impact on their characters.

  4. Matthew says:

    I’m following your post as well but I just started reading the book. It’s off to a slow start, hopefully the pace will pick up as I read on.

  5. Jackie says:

    Softdrink – the more I read, the more I dislike the characters – this book isn’t turning out they way I thought it would – I look forward to getting to the end and working all my thoughts out on this one.

    Matthew – Yes, I was surprised at how slow it was to start – it picks up pace about a third of the way in.

  6. Sarah says:

    I liked all the characters, they are flawed human beings who make mistakes but I think this makes the novel more realistic and enjoyable. The women do show themselves to be strong but I’m afraid your thoughts on Ugwu may change later on.

  7. CBJames says:

    I have read the entire book but I won’t give anything away.

    I loved it from page one. The first part does take it’s time, but it was so nice to be so fully immeresed in a contemporary novel. So many of them are fast paced page turners that you can just feel them turning into screenplays as you read them. Half of a Yellow Sun is a novel in the classic sense, full of both character and characters, rich with detail. It’s not so much reading a story as it is spending time with a group of people.

    I don’t have to want to be friends with a character to sympathize with them. The two couples certainly have their ups and downs, it’s true, but how many real people are there that you like all of the time? By the end, I liked all of the five main characters up to a point. And when they did things I did not like I was able to understand why even when I disapproved.

    I’ll be interested to hear what you think once you’re finished with the book.

  8. Jackie says:

    Sarah – I’m worried about what Ugwu is going to do now – I must get on and finish it.

    CBJames – It is strange to be comparing notes when I haven’t finished the book, but I agree with all your points. I don’t have to like a character to sympathise with them, but it helps!

    I think my main problem is that I do have such a special relationship with my husband that we don’t behave in the same way as the couples in the book. I don’t really understand why people can behave in those ways to the person who is supposedly the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with.

    I do love the rich detail of the book, and don’t really mind how slow it was to start. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it to be like that after reading Purple Hibiscus.

    Perhaps I’ll love all the characters by the end – we’ll just have to wait and see!


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