Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the second book I have completed as part of the Orbis Terrarum Challenge and a very different book from my first book read for this challenge - This Charming Man - Marian Keyes.
Half of a Yellow Sun is set during the 1960's in the time of the Nigeria - Biafra war and the book won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007. I have had this book on my "to read" list for a while.
The novel tells the story of a group of characters all interlinked in some way. Olanna and her twin sister Kainene - different in character and looks, Olanna's partner Odenigbo, an intellectual university lecturer, Odenigbo's house boy, Ugwu and a British writer, Richard who becomes Kainene's partner.
The personalities, desires, fears and purposes of each of these characters are drawn out and written beautifully - I was hooked into caring about these characters and what their ultimate fate would be right from the beginning of the story - even though I didn't always like the characters and the choices they made - I cared about them. Their relationships are challenged throughout the novel - Olanna is not seen as a prefect partner choice for Odenigbo by his mother and serious consequences arise from this, alternatively the unattractive Odenigbo is looked down upon as a partner for the beautiful Olanna by her family and close friends. Kainene and Richard's relationship is also frowned upon - particularly by the white European characters in the novel.
The story starts before the war has begun and yet there is still tension evident within and between the characters - something is brewing right from the beginning both from the characters themselves and the landscape and country where the story is set.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in an interview that she wrote this novel because she wanted to "write about love and war". Although this can sound like quite a simple premise I think it is actually far from simple and I think Half of a Yellow Sun is an amazing achievement. I am ashamed to say that I knew very little (if anything) about the Nigeria - Biafra war before reading this story but I now feel like I have been able to read a very personal account of how this conflict may have impacted on the lives of the people involved in it.
I think the ending of the story is a beautiful (and for me, unexpected) testament to what the author was trying to convey through writing the novel about African story telling. I highly recommend this novel.