Thursday, September 19, 2013

On Reading Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun

I confess that I read Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun way before I got to read any of her other texts. I am not complaining, just acknowledging where Adichie and I tragically met. But before I can say anything more, I have something to share about her novel Purple Hibiscus: in this text, the narrator says “Jaja's defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma's experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with the undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. a freedom to be, to do” (p16). This bildungsroman novel narrates the story of Kambili and Jaja two kids raised in a semi-contemporary African context by a religious fanatic father. The story tells of their growth – physical, psychological, social – and how they eventually rebel against their father's tyranny. In this story, it is not only the traditions which fall apart, but also the contemporary values that are rootless, aped from alien cultures and without realistic points of reference from which we can identify with. It seems that the text makes a mockery of the colonial education and its shallowness in attempting to assimilate Africans from their ‘heathen practices’.
Hence, Eugene's obsession with the rosary and his repeated reference to his father as a worshiper of heathen gods projects him as an alienated man whose perspective towards life is bereft of any human life. He is thus unhappy, selfish and he fatalistically drives himself to damnation. His wife epitomises “the traditional subservient woman” who answers the call and beckon of the husband but she can’t take it anymore and so she begins to poison the husband until he dies. It is a bold move that sets her apart from what the reader had expected of her as a timid woman. The husband's death liberates her and at the same time empowers her – releases her from the shackles of tradition which prescribes her space as that of a diminished woman who must heed to what the husband says. This is the story of Kambili whose world seems unfathomable from her innocent child’s perspective yet it is powerfully rendered to demystify the lie that is patriarchy.
So what about Half of a Yellow Sun? This novel gripped me, tantalised my taste buds and at the same time scared the wits out of my mind. After all I read it shortly after the bungled 2007/2008 Kenyan elections and the chaos, death etc that accompanied the release of the results. I could not avoid it and so I had to make a connection between the civil war of Nigeria and the 2007/2008 postelection violence in Kenya. The similarity between the two cannot be overemphasised. The beauty of this novel lies in the story of Kainene and Olanna, the twins whose parents are wealthy business people courtesy of a corrupt government structure. The tensions surrounding their school life, love, relationship, and or marriage is what holds the story together even as we discover the political tensions of the nation at large.
The way the personal lives of Kainene and Olanna are shattered, the challenges they undergo to reconnect, to remember their childhood innocence and the experiences that have embellished scars on their lives physically and psychologically are symbolic of the intrigues that characterise the social, political and economic spectre of the nation described in the novel. But, a bigger tragedy lies in the suspicion and the inbred hatred that throbs in the veins of tribal/ethnic hatred and the religious abhorrence that exists between the Christians and the Muslims.
I became hooked to the story as a result of the vividness with which the events are narrated. The descriptions of the characters, their personalities and temperaments left me with a tingling feeling on my tongue. It is as if I could savour them, feel, hear, smell, and touch. The story comes out in a cinematographic manner and I was not disappointed by the trailer to the movie either. In fact, the minute I saw the trailer, I was able to reconnect with the story and to share in the similar images that I had imagined of all along.
Although, it is the bloodshed and the brutality with which the war is waged that portrays the cruel/evil nature of man. That human beings can turn against each other with such gusto, bile and the ferocity of beasts seems out of this world until you observe your alter ego in a moment of anger. The mangled bodies, charred remains and destroyed property appear like a horror movie especially when you come across the people as they massacre one another. The text warns us against bloodletting because a single drop of innocent human blood might be the ingredient that we all need to be reminded that beneath our human skin lies a monster of un-proportional magnitude incapable of being tamed. This is the tragedy that befalls Ugwu, Odenigbo’s naive house boy.
Caught in the melee of the nation’s disintegration and the deteriorating relationship between Kainene and Olanna is Richard, a British Anthropologist. He represents the expatriates who are torn between identifying themselves with their countries of origin and those of their heart’s desires. They are not the only victims of alienation because Mohammed, Okeoma, Madu, Abdulmalik and many others are inexplicably torn apart by the retributions of alienation. It is a story of love, pain, joy, marriage, break up, death, civil strife, culture, religion, business, migration, education and many others all concocted in one melting pot.
I will bet that watching the movie will be nothing close to a reading of the text. For example the description of the little baby girl’s plaited head covered in a calabash cannot be captured in any better way through camera shots as opposed to the manner in which it is vivified in the novel. Thus, I am looking forward for a copy of Adichie’s third novel Americanah to appease my avid taste for her writing. Although, for now I have to sit back with bated breath to wait for the movie Half of a Yellow Sun, but I am already biased because my appetite has been satiated by a reading of the novel. What about you? 

1 comment:

  1. This article was first posted on under our films and books section where we cast our reviews. Visit the site for more interesting readings.


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