Half a Yellow Sun has shed a scorching light on "the dark continent of Africa. The 47or so countries, have always seemed to be 6 or in a particularly bad years, 9 countries. I just checked; it is second to Asia in size and population. Europe is much smaller in size and population, yet takes up most the American interest (except when it comes to diamonds and other raw materials).
I went to an affluent suburban high school from 1966-1970, the time when the novel is set and I never knew, until reading this devastating novel that the Biafrans were Nigerians trying to separate from Nigeria. The public was bombarded with malnourished children with bloated stomachs ,"Biafra Babies". I believed that they were starving and dying because of drought and bad farming techniques. I don't remember hearing about a revolution .
Adichie's novel focuses on the upper class. The main characters are all well educated and living affluent lives. Olanna and Kainene are twins but not identical. Olanna becomes involved with an intellectual revolutionary. Though they fight for equality and freedom they have a servant and foreign luxury cars. Kainene, a successful financier, is in a relationship with a white British author who has come Nigeria because of his love of ancient pots.
Half a Yellow Sun begins when Nigeria is united and the well to do have European educations, multiple houses, imported whiskey and bank accounts. There are servants , chauffeurs and bribes. The poor are poor, but live with dignity and local food.
Once the revolution begins, the one I never heard of, life changes for all Nigerians. Adichie tells the story of war: battle, destruction, starvation, and degradation. The Biafra babies, which I do remember, lived short lives of innocence. The soldiers and conscripted teens are starved, injured and allowed and even encouraged to rape. Many of the demeaned women die during their attacks or commit suicide after. The young men, often 13 or 14 years old who commit these atrocities are never the same either.
You can't find Biafra on the map. The uprising lasted less than three years. Adichie, who was not born at the time has used her parents's memories , her family's memories and other first hand sources to show the destruction which disorganized war and corruption causes. The British author, Richard, Kainene 's lover, who throws his lot with the Igbo revolutionaries tries to write a book ,"The World Was Silent While We Died."
I'm sure history buffs know this story. If you are like me, one who didn't study Nigeria, you will be surprised by the wealth, the cosmopolitan life style, the corruption of the revolution and the fact that the "civilized world", the U.S., Europe and China basically did nothing while these atrocities spun out of control.
If you're not interested in the war, there is also sisterly love, Baby love, romantic love, lust, loyalty and disloyalty, fashion, food and life under Half a Yellow Sun. This novel is not for the faint of heart or the beach reader. It is for a serious reader who appreciates excellent prose and is willing to take an uncomfortable journey to the past, to a country which 40 years later is just as unstable. The world is still silent.