World Book Night: C.N. Adichie “Half of a Yellow Sun”

In my Letters from Belize (see Letter 6 ‘The British Legacy’ under ‘Topics’) I highlighted the damning legacy of British colonialism in that country. But Belize was by no means the only former British colony that fought its way to independence and, for years afterwards, struggled to establish its own identity and credibility. Nigeria was granted its independence in 1960, but the boundaries of the new state did not reflect earlier ethnic boundaries that honoured the differences between four ethnic groups: the Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa and Fulani tribes. During the 1960s, serious tensions amongst these tribes eventually led to the secession of SE Nigeria, forming the new and ultimately ephemeral Republic of Biafra, becoming almost a ‘bunker-state’ for the Igbo tribes.

Because of the huge oil reserves in the newly seceded state, Nigeria had lost access to its primary source of income which,ultimately, became the principal cause of the succeeding Nigerian-Biafran war 1967-70, where over 1 million Biafrans died, many through starvation. The most potent weapon wielded by the Nigerians was the blockade of humanitarian aid into Biafra. It proved to be an indiscriminate killing force amongst the predominantly Igbo peoples.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun is set in the three year period of the war, and the novel’s title was inspired by the Biafran flag. The effect of the war is shown through the dynamic relationships of four people’s lives ranging from high ranking political figures, a professor, a British citizen, and a houseboy. The twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, very different characters, have a confrontational relationship, which somehow reflects


a little of what is going on in the tribal conflict at large.

When asked why she wrote the novel, Adichie’s reply included the following: “……..because I grew up in the shadow of the Biafran war, because I lost both grandfathers……………because many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved in Nigeria today…….because the brutal bequests of colonialism make me angry……….because I don’t want ever to forget”.


About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on August 6, 2011, in Book reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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