Review: Half of a Yellow Sun – The Brightness of Humanity under the Shadow of Biafra

History becomes all too human in the hands of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “Half of a Yellow Sun” is a story of the Biafran war, touching the profound, deeply felt wounds of the past. A determined political stance on who should be writing the stories of Africa, it is a novel filled with both light and darkness, tenderness and violence – within this tension there is something daringly humane and breathtakingly sincere. Photo credit: IR /BD.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work has been an act of defiance from the very beginning. Inspired by Chinua Achebe’s concept of a “balance of stories”, her novels are windows into complex universes inhabited by multifaceted characters. Her storytelling evokes a chorus of voices and experiences, together they paint delicate pictures, full of nuance and emotion, staggerly vivid, brightly alive. “Half of a Yellow Sun” transports us to 1960’s Nigeria, where civil war wreaked havoc, in the midst of what came to be known as the Biafran War.

It is a plea for memory, but not only. It is also a plea for intimacy, a search for humanity in inhumane circumstances. Within the novel there is an intricate tension between violence and tenderness – Adichie relentlessly describes the brutality of the conflict, yet there is space for the gentle warmth of family, wholehearted tales of love and passion, the curiosity of growing up, the stunning joy of friendship… There was war in Nigeria, but Nigeria is not war, it is not a place occupied only by tragedy. There is not a “single story” of Nigeria.

“How much did one know of the true feelings of those who did not have a voice?” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

“Half of a Yellow Sun” unapologetically claims who should write the stories of Africa. Here, literature is a battleground. There is great power in telling a story, in reclaiming a story, owning it, setting the terms under which it is told. The brutality of colonialism has silenced many, shackled many to the images created for them. Images that are but claustrophobic small rooms, prisons meant to deny a common ground, an equal standing. 

“This is our world, although the people who drew this map decided to put their own land on top of ours. There is no top or bottom, you see.”― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

To write is then to rebel, to dissent, to riot, to rise up, to reclaim a space. But “Half a Yellow Sun” is not a novel that exists only in opposition, it tells a mighty energetic story in its own right. In the shadow of Biafra shines the all encompassing terrific force of humanity.

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