Half of a Yellow Sun
I have been waiting for summer to come around so I could have time to read a book by Nigerian female author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Some people may know her as the voice in 'Flawless' by Beyonce. A part of her speech called "We should all be feminists" was featured in part of the original 'flawless' music video. I'll admit that I wasn't familiar with her work until that video went viral. This is the first of her books I was able to get my hands on, and it took me on an emotional roller coaster.
My parents don't have a habit of teaching me things about my culture unless something happens that reminds them of a specific event. So this book was my first exposure to the 1967 Biafra war. I had no idea this even happened in my country, and I spent a lot of time asking my mom questions, and researching information on the war. My parents both have interesting perspective on the topic because my mom is an Igbo woman who's family was forced to move to the Lagos during the war. My dad on the other hand, grew up in Jos, and attended a prestigious Muslim school in the area. When I asked why his parents sent him to a Muslim school though we are Christians, he said that it's because they had a good education system. Back then, the divide based on religion wasn't as strict.
I didn't know people were very serious about tribal disputes in Nigeria. I guess that's why the previous election was a bog deal. My cousin, who came to visit from Nigeria this week, told me that our family is actually really liberal, compared to other families. We don't care what tribe a person is from as long as he/she comes from a good family background. On both sides of my family I have relatives from many tribes. I think it is cool that the history of our country, or differences in tribes, didn't prevent my parents from loving each other.
This book was very eye opening to me 'cause I didn't know the tribal differences was serious enough to cause a secession. From what I gathered, there were multiple reasons that contributed to the war, like the lack of educational opportunities for Igbo people and political differences. Chimamanda did an amazing job of capturing the spirit of the BIafran's and their newly found identity. Half way through the book I felt like I was part of their movement, and understood why they wanted no part in Nigerian Federal Government. Of course I recognize that the book is biased coming from an author who's family lived through the war. But regardless of your opinion of the civil war, the biggest lesson I learned is that war is horrible. The war challenged each characters integrity, ideology and loyalty to each other.
During the first half of the book, Chimamanda introduces the reader to the different life styles of lower class, educated, and upper class Igbo people. She intricately weaves through each characters perspective to give a well rounded view on the story. You see those who were loyal to the cause, those who ran to other countries to avoid the war, those who were severely affected by the war, and those who weren't affected at all. One of my favorite characters was Ugwu, cause for some reason, I relate to him. I loved going through his mind, and seeing how his ideas, understanding, and view on life changed as he got older. He was the perfect example of someone who is torn between the expectations placed on him by the war and his obligation to morality.
It is important to notice the change in attitude when Odenigbo the intellectual, and his friends spoke about revolutionary ideas with zeal before the war began. And years into the war, his character changed, and he behaved in a way that was beneath him. War brought out the worst in him and his wife Olanna saw him for what he really was. I guess the lesson there is, be careful what you wish for. The harsh realities of war pushed him and others main characters to do things they never thought they would.
Overall, I liked how realistic and relatable each character was through out the book. Their everyday life struggles kept them human during an inhumane time of loss and attack. I didn't understand how the war was lost but my mom explained that a country is stronger with more people, which is why countries like France, United Kingdom and United states supported Nigeria. It is sad that starvation, and a high death toll was the war tactic used to smoke out the Biafran's.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book: (This is a long book, and I couldn't remember the exact page numbers of some quotes)
“...my point is that the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe...I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came".
“You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?” Aunty Ifeka said. “Your life belongs to you and you alone.”
“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”
"Biafra is born! We will lead Black Africa! We will live in security! Nobody will ever again attack us! Never again!". - Pg. 163
"No doubt that these groups also fought wars and slave raided each other, but they did not massacre in this manner. If this is hatred, then it is very young. It has been caused, simply, by the informal divided-and-rule policies of the British colonial exercise. These policies manipulated the differences between the tribes and ensured that unity would not exist, thereby making the easy governance of such a large country practicable. - pg. 166-167