Sunday, 5 August 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Harper Perennial

A DAZZLING book set in the 1960s, when revolutionaries were hopeful and the young republic of Biafra was about to secede from Nigeria.

It's this year's Orange Prize winner, and also a Richard and Judy book club choice, covering both the intellectual and the wow-read ends of the market.

Warning: it starts well, then there's a dullish section when an English writer is drafted in as a character - but read on. The pace picks up again. It certainly does.

Olanna and her sister Kainene are sisters - Olanna beautiful and in love with a young radical lecturer; Kainene the brains of her family and following her father into business as an industrialist while living with Richard, a diffident white Englishman.

Nigeria is riven by corruption, and the intellectuals want it to end. But when the coup comes, it is bloody, and then it is swiftly followed by the genocidal killing of thousands of Igbo people. And Olanna and Kainene's family are Igbo.

This is not a book for those who prefer to skip the gory parts. Olanna and Richard both witness the murders - he in an airport where soldiers break in and murder all the Igbo, she as she visits a Moslem man she once loved, and he smuggles her out past the bodies of her cousins.

Biafra fills with refugees, and as the Nigerian 'police action' to bring back rebel Biafra threatens, the famine begins.

Half of a Yellow Sun is an ideal book for anyone who might think "It couldn't happen here" or "It never happens to people like us".

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