Book Review

CSC x Women’s Prize: Half of a Yellow Sun

To mark the start of our exciting partnership with the Women’s Prize for Fiction, we have decided to review Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, winner of the 2007 Women’s Prize and crowned their ‘Winner of Winners’ from 25 years of Women’s Prize for Fiction winning books in 2021. The novel absolutely deserves its praise - here is our take on this historical, romantic and tragic masterpiece. 

This fantastic book is a complex novel of intertwinings. In 1960s Nigeria, three lives intersect during a time of civil war. The chapters are split between focusing on Ugwu, an Igbo houseboy who has started working for a university professor, Olanna, a wealthy and beautiful young woman who has moved to Nsukka to be with her new lover, the professor - and Richard, an English journalist who is in love with Olanna’s sister.  

The stories of these three characters coincide with the violent, bloody Biafran struggle for independence in Nigeria, and Adichie’s sensitivity to this forgotten part of history is remarkable. While she does not shy away from graphic descriptions of violence, hunger and desperation that were key to this part of history, she delicately intertwines the narrative with fictional romances, with the everyday cooking of meals, and with rocky sibling relationships  - things that form part of every life, whether historical or contemporary, whether war-ridden or not. 

Adichie is interested not with hard facts and figures but with emotion. The power in her writing lies not only with uncovering a history that, for most readers, will be completely new to them, but also with allowing us to empathise with her characters. The complexity of humanity is made clear to us when we sympathise with Olanna even when she is adulterous, or with Ugwu even when he commits horrible acts of violence as he grows older… and this is how we begin the complexity of what normal, flawed people had to endure during this time, and how the conflict could alter their behaviour. 

Dealing with themes of war, colonialism, class, race and complex romances all within the pages of one novel is no mean feat. Adichie’s years of research shine through masterful storytelling which adds real feeling to every development. This book will not only teach you about a conflict that happened not so long ago, but it will also involve you in the story, and ask you to consider what it is like to have the reality you know so well upturned and to fight for your life. 

Find out more about Half of a Yellow Sun here, and click here to know more about the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and its past winners. Stay tuned for lots of fun things to come as our partnership grows!