Monday, March 26, 2007

Laura's Review - Half of a Yellow Sun

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
433 pages

First Sentence: Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair.

Last Sentence: Ugwu writes his dedication last: For Master, my good man.

Reflections: This book takes place during the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-70, when the southern part of Nigeria seceded and formed its own state, known as Biafra. We see the conflict through the eyes of the main characters, who are Biafran: Olanna and Odenigbo, well-off and well-educated academics; Ugwu, their houseboy; Kainene, Olanna's twin sister; and Richard, a British expat and Kainene's partner (and the only one who is not native to the country). We get to know them before the war, becoming familiar with their "normal" life, and watching with horror as the war's violence and atrocities come closer and closer.

"The world has to know the truth of what is happening, because they simply cannot remain silent while we die."

Why do human beings do this to one another? Why is war considered an effective method of resolving conflict? And why do powerful, economically advantaged, nations stand by and allow crimes against humanity? It is too easy to distance ourselves from the conflict and the people, as if they are not real. Adichie's writing makes it real. We can identify with the characters, their day-to-day routine and concerns. As their lives are torn apart by war, as they lose their livelihood and have to fight for housing and food, as they witness and experience violence and fear, we realize that yes, this does happen to real people.

"...the rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person."

And despite this reality, those of us living in predominantly white cultures do not hear or read enough about it. War, violence, poverty, and famine rage in Africa and the Middle East today, and there are not enough calls for humanitarian relief and action that will bring an end to the conflict. In the United States, gun violence is escalating and is especially devastating in the poor areas of our cities. But the news media quickly tire of these stories, unless one of "our own" (usually white, American) is at risk.

Are we not all one people? What would it take to bring unity and an end to violence?


Wendy said...

You ask some good questions, Laura. I agree - we live in a society that often doesn't respond or act unless we feel PERSONALLY threatened. Living across an ocean from these tragedies effectively isolates us and allows us to continue to pretend it isn't happening (or to close our eyes). Adichie is such a gifted writer because she makes us FEEL for the characters; and she makes us care what happens.

kookiejar said...

It's not only the tragedies that happen far away that we never hear about. If a lovely white girl is kidnapped, raped, and murdered you hear about the search for her body for weeks...but the same horrible things happen to black and hispanic girls too, and we never hear about them.

You are right Laura, it's time we all started to care about our fellow man regardless of where they live, or what color they are, as we are all human.

Good review.