Fiction – audiobook. Read by Zainab Jah. Books on Tape, 2017. Originally published 2006. 18 hours, 10 minutes. Purchased.
Set in the 1960s, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel focused on the impassioned struggle of the largely Igbo population to establish the independent republic, Biafra, in southeastern Nigeria. In the early 1960s, readers are introduced to fraternal twins, Olanna and Kainene, and the men whom they become irrevocably tied to during the later portion of the 1960s.
There is Odenigbo, a black university professor eager to shake off colonial and norther Nigerian rule; Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo in return for time to attend school; and Richard, a white man who falls in love with Kainene and feels more Biafran than English.
As I wrote in my review of Americanah last month, I had a similar experience with this novel from Adichie in that I tried to read it several times – once in mid-2011, once in July 2012, and now once more in August 2019. This time I was successful, thanks in part because I switched over to audiobook and experiences Zainab Jah’s wonderful narration.
Divided into four parts, the novel dedicates two parts to life before the civil war in the 1960s and two during the war with the novel following a pre, during, pre, and during pattern. Adichie tries to add mystery to the story by jumping ahead a few years in the second part and having the characters mention that they haven’t seen one another for years for reasons unknown to the reader.
For me, this extra mystery wasn’t needed. I don’t necessarily need a chronologically seamless narration, but I wasn’t yet invested enough in the characters to feel impacted or intrigued by the unknown tension between them. That was the only clunky part of Adichie’s narrative for me. Once the past is explained more in detail, the novel culminates in a humanizing portrayal of a war that wasn’t even a footnote in my textbooks.
It seems that Adichie’s full-length novels work best on audio for me while I’m able to fly through with her shorter, nonfiction works in print. Unfortunately, my new public library doesn’t have the audiobook edition of her other two novels, Purple Hibiscus and The Thing Around Your Neck, and I cancelled my Audible subscription last month. So, it will likely be some time before I am able to immerse myself in another one of her fantastically vivid novels.
‘Half a Yellow Sun’ won the Orange Prize for Fiction, currently known as the Women’s Prize for Fiction, in 2007.