A few months ago I read Chinua Achebe s autobiography, There Was a Country , which depicted Nigeria s Biafran War 1967 1970 This book also deals with the events before and leading up to the war This book was marvelous The story just flows for the most part and the language used is so evocative I m sure people who have visited or lived in Africa will appreciate the descriptions of African life, African mentality, humour, nature and so on I have to admit, I much preferred the first half to the second half It was hard to read about the Biafran war The copy of the book I had actually showed pictures of children during the war who had suffered from kwashiorkor It was truly heartbreaking To think so many tribal wars occurred because of colonialists drawing arbitrary borders and also favouring one ethnic group over another similar to what happened in Burundi and Rwanda.The stories of the five main characters Ugwu, Olanna, Richard, Odenigbo and Kainene were also interesting, though some parts were quite reminiscent of a Nollywood Nigerian movie industry movie affairs, evil women, desperation for babies, meddling mothers etc Since a lot of people consider Africa on the whole to be a homogeneous country where everyone speaks African , I m hoping books like this will help show people that that s not the case even a country like Nigeria has so many tribes and cultures One quote I really liked was this 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 A point to ponder.Adichie is definitely a wonderful contemporary African writer, probably one of the best I ve encountered in recent years I m really excited to read from Adichie She s so young and it s safe to suppose her writing will only get better The world was silent when we died This casual statement he once heard is used as the title of a book written by one of the characters in this novel, in which Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie chronicles the birth, short and tortured life and death of the State of Biafra born on the 30th of May, 1967 from Nigeria and forcefully annexed back by the parent state, after a bitter war in which a million died, in January 1970.Most of us, I suspect, do not know about this short lived country Even Wikipedia calls the war between Biafra and Nigeria a civil war , thus denying legitimacy to the erstwhile nation even though a number of countries recognised it Since history is always written by the victors, the voice of the losers are often submerged in the general background noise.I listened to a talk by the author a very impressive one about the danger of the single story the one that has been foisted on the world by the erstwhile colonial powers and called history These are opinions which are taught as facts, which tend to show an uncivilised third world , and the West s civilising influence This is so much bovine excrement The colonial powers went into Asia and Africa to loot, and when the loot was finished, exited leaving miserable poverty and the flames of mutual hatred in the minds of people This is the story which is not told.Ms Adichie also warns us about the secondary story in the speech that is, starting the story from the second chapter, ignoring the first Examples are plentiful Palestinians attacking the peaceful state of Israel, without mentioning the death and displacement of thousand of Palestinians to create the said country mutual hatred between India and Pakistan, without mentioning the hatred fomented by the British which resulted in the partition endemic poverty and tribal violence in Africa, without mentioning the years of occupation by the West which created them Up till recently, world history was made up of these secondary stories, which served as the one story which the former colonial powers wanted to propagate.It is heartening to note that things are changing People like Chimamanda are using the most powerful medium available to humans since the dawn of civilisation to bring about that change the medium of the narrative And it is here that the defeated people have an immense power which cannot be suppressed.The world was silent when many died But now it will have to listen, as the dead tell their story from beyond the grave As the British colonists left Nigeria, they did what they were expert at doing drawing artificial national boundaries and inciting hatred in the minds of the people they ruled So after a period of uneasy calm, Nigeria erupted in riots The powerful Hausa people massacred the Igbo minority, whom they considered to be enjoying benefits than was due them see anything familiar here , and the Igbo declared independence from Nigeria, and the state of Biafra was born However, Nigeria could not let go of the oil rich south so war was declared In a bitter battle which lasted two and a half years which left a million dead and the country devastated, Biafra was subjugated and wiped off the map.Ms Adichie passes the harsh white light of history through the prism of individual experience to create overlapping rainbows of narratives In this, her style is similar to that of Paul Scott however, whereas Scott s narrative is an Indian tapestry where one has to search among the intricate coloured strands to see a pattern or multiple conflicting patterns , Chimamanda s work has all the blunt beauty of African art the uncomplicated lines and the simple patterns which makes the medium all but transparent so that the narrator is talking directly to the listener Scenes of utter despair and brutality are described very matter of factly, in almost Hemingway esque prose We are all sitting around a metaphorical campfire, listening to the author telling her story in uncomplicated prose.But it does not mean that there are no nuances The name, Half of a Yellow Sun, itself signifies separation, a paring the fact that it is a reference to the Biafran flag makes it all the significant One of the three main characters through whose viewpoints we experience the tale, Olanna, is one of set of fraternal twins Like twins in a fairy tale, the sisters are of diametrically opposite natures Olanna is beautiful, revolutionary and optimistic while her sister Kainene is plain, cynical and pessimistic Of course, things are not so simple as they seem, and the sisters characters unfurl as the story progresses showing us and layers, as the siblings move through their lives, facing love, hatred, betrayal, separation and loss against a nation that is slowly coming apart at the seams.Another character through whose eyes we see the tragedy of Biafra is Richard Churchill, Kainene s lover an Englishman who has gone native Richard is interested in Igbo pottery, and is ostensibly researching it He is also trying to write a book which never seems to take shape like character from a Kafka story, Richard plods on, reaching nowhere.But for me, the character who holds the novel together is Ugwu, houseboy of Odenigbo, Olanna s boyfriend As we move across the Nigeria of the early sixties to the Biafra of the late sixties and then again, back to a unified Nigeria in 1970, Ugwu grows from child to man in ways than one In the end, he becomes Richard s spiritual heir of sorts, telling the story of the Igbo people of Nigeria, which Richard could never accomplish.The story goes on. Magic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie born 1977 seemed to possess a magic wand that she was able to weave a story that was not supposed to be interesting for me an Asian who have not been to Africa except seeing parts of that continent in the movies and reading Chinua Achebe s Things Fall Apart. Adichie turned an uninteresting story that speaks lucidly, bravely and beautifully about that tumultuous event that happened in her country Nigeria during the latter part of the 60 s when she was not even born yet I have been postponing reading this book for a year now and had I died at that time, I would have regretted not experiencing the magical prose of the beautiful outside and inside Adichie Yes, Google her picture oh, I now refrain inserting images in my reviews as they could hang the screen of my computer and see for yourself She is beautiful.I said the story was uninteresting because its backdrop was the secession of Biafra from Nigeria in the 1967 The British left Nigeria in 1960 and it resulted to the alignment of powers, anchored in ethnicity, social class, oil, etc, and so the Republic of Biafra still an unrecognized state was born On the center of the republic s flag is a rising yellow sun That explains the title as only half of the sun is shown This secession is not as close to my heart as the ones here in Asia including the one here in the country Mindanao on going If you look at the map of the Philippines, there is a big island at the southern part of the archipelago It is called Mindanao Since many decades back, there is a secessionist movement composed of the Muslim leaders, the Moro National Liberation Front, based in that island who want to secede Mindanao from the Philippines Reason religion The island is mostly populated by Muslims while the rest of the country is inhabited by Christians with Catholics comprising 85% of them.Taiwan on going Taiwan used to be part of Mainland China until the defeat and expulsion of the ruling Kuomintang ROC government by the Communist Party of China in 1949 Tibet on going Tibetan Independence Movement asserts that Tibet has been historically independent from People s Republic of China Tibetan diaspora in countries like India and the United States and by celebrities in the US and Europe support this with the Dalai Lama becoming the symbol of their cause.Those who have seceded already but whose stories captured the attention of the world were East Timor secession from Indonesia in 2002, Kashmir from India in 1989 and the expulsion of Singapore from the Malayan Federation in 1965 Since these three happened during my lifetime,I have read many stories about them on newspapers or novels with any of them used as backdrop.So, you can see that my plate is full already of interesting stories of on going Asian secession movements as well as those that have succeeded already So, reading about one in Africa Biafra was not really that interesting for me.But Adichie has magic tricks up her sleeves I would like to think that Adichie s powerful prose can even turn a telephone book into a literary masterpiece Her characters are three or even four dimensional, i.e., they come alive in every page of her book This is a story of 5 individuals all belonging to the ethnic group Igbo that is pro secession One of them is already a British national, an intellectual professor Odenigbo The second one is his wife Olanna who studied in England Third is Olanna s her sister Kainene Fourth is Kainene s husband Richard who is a still a British national but studying Igbo arts However, my favorite is the fifth major character the 13 y o houseboy Ugwu not only because he seems to be the character that holds the story together but he seems to be the one that truly represents the Biafran innocent and clueless but governed by his traditional values and what little knowledge of the world and politics he had at the beginning of the story then got caught in the frenzy of killings, hopelessness, famine and deaths during the secession He also got caught by the resulting transformations of the other four main characters as the secession brought out the best, but mostly worst, of their characters.In terms of its theme, this book may have some similarities with Chinua Achebe s Things Fall Apart or Richard Koch s The Year of Living Dangerously as both are stories of people caught and struggling with themselves amidst the change in the political power However, Adichie s storytelling makes all the difference Her narration is flawless, enchanting, interesting and arresting I was able to relate to her milieu because Africa and Asia have many similarities including the social strata of people particularly in the provinces This book really surprised me Two years ago, when I saw this book on the shelves of Fullybooked, I said to myselfChimamanda Ngozi Adichie Who is this authorand I had second thought of buying the book The only reason why I had to was that this is a 1001 book.Now, if somebody would ask me who is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I would have this to sayMagic She is this African author who writes like she has magical powersAnd her work deserves to be in that list.I should go and look for her Purple Hibiscus. I read only about one third of this novel Adichie s CNA writing doesn t agree with me at all And the characters are so flat they should be able to slide under a door trouble free The characters don t even bother to play their role with its limited definition Instead they keep pounding their fists on a table and shouting out what their role is supposed to be I am a sardonic bitch , I am sooo non racist you won t even believe it , blah blah.Ouch My head hurts.One type of characters I am almost certain to hate are the P.E.R.F.E.C.T ones And CNA stops just short of establishing Olanna s idol in a temple and worshiping her We are constantly reminded of what a smart and benevolent person she is And non racist She is always showing off her fancy London based education, always talking about this charity or that To make sure she is universally adored, CNA mentions her angel like beauty almost every time Olanna is mentioned.In CNA s world all rich people are by default super shallow Now poor Olanna had the misfortune of being born to rich parents How do we fix that Olanna leaves her parent s house to live with her boyfriend does this count as a sacrifice and takes up a job Her parents still keep trying to shove fancy cars and bundles of cash down her throat She feebly resists, but has to accept them anyway Very convenient Odenigbo the revolutionary His activism largely involves drinking with buddies in his living room and abruptly shouting out some out of context political dialogue To hold up this forward and enlightened image of his he needs to keep breaking into such diatribes without any sense of place or time so I am driving my houseboy to see his sick mom I know exactly what the boy needs right now, my political rant Yup.Ugwu So wait, you mean my mom is not dying, she is only terribly sick Hurray, I can go back to fantasizing about Nnesinachi breasts.Richard super lame white boy who has read a Wikipedia article or some equivalent about one Nigerian art form and now that s the only thing he will ever talk about And hey, he claims to have interest in a local art form What do you mean that s not sufficient to give him a non racist badge and a couple of such posers In terms of writing, CNA tries to be somewhat fancy and writer ly, thus ending up writing in a style that doesn t come naturally to her You can see her trying a bit too hard One rule of thumb she seems to follow is to attach an unrelated, trivial sentence at the end of a paragraph Is that supposed to impart depth to the writing I know I haven t reached the meat of the novel yet There is a war on the horizon Typically one can expect to see a transformation in someone who has lived through a war Given what I have seen so far, these characters may jump from one assigned characteristic to another, if the author tells them to I don t expect to see any realistic, believable transitions I am just going to live without knowing who all make it through the war. Something of a disappointmentIt is not often that a novel comes to hand that has been prized, praised and pre inflated Half of a Yellow Sun was in that category when I opened it and began to read And I was captivated immediately I read the first hundred pages at a pace, delighting in the ease with which the Chimanada Ngozi Adichie used language to draw me into the middle class clique centred on the University of Nsukka which provides the core characters of her book Their infidelities, their inconsistencies, their desire, despite the servants, for equality and freedom are symptomatic of their time The dissimilar twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, one imagines will provide a vehicle for parallel and different lives, providing contrast and metaphor, and I eagerly awaited their stories to unfold.The book s sections alternate between the early and late 1960s, the latter period in Nigeria, of course, being the Biafran War And, yes, the characters live through the war, and their lives and their natures, and along with them their country, are transformed by it Perhaps even their own identity is redrawn, especially once the promise of a recognised nationality is promised and then denied Eventually there are vivid scenes of the war s brutality, its double standards, its compromises, its cynicism, its racism and its starvation The images are graphic and vivid, unforgettable even, and the ability of war to undermine utterly and profoundly any assumption that an individual might harbour about an imagined future is movingly portrayed.So why then was I so disappointed with the book All I can offer, I m afraid, is that eventually I found it shallow Its apparent concentration on the domestic lives of the characters undermined their credibility as members of an intellectual elite and rendered them two or perhaps even one dimensional Chimanada Ngozi Adichie carefully tells us that Odenigbo is a mathematician and in love with his subject He covets his personal library, which he loses in the war and then has replaced by a benefactor But in my experience, mathematicians are passionate people and are usually passionate about mathematics No mathematician I have ever met avoids all mention of personal academic interests in social settings as scrupulously as Odenigbo I didn t want the novel to become a textbook, but if characters were ballet dancers, surely we would expect to hear of the roles they had danced and the music that had moved them Of Odenigbo s academic character we hear nothing Why is he therefore endowed with knowledge and interest that is never explored Perhaps he only exists as a character to interact with the twin sisters And the problem is repeated with Richard Churchill who, we are told is an Igbo speaking English radical I knew a lot of sixties radicals and they were never slow to offer an opinion or, indeed, place themselves squarely in a space on the ideological chessboard In Half of a Yellow Sun, we never learn if Richard is a Marxist, Maoist, Leninist or Trot He never mentions Castro or Ho Chi Minh He doesn t appear to have any position on capitalism, society, business, the Third World, South Africa, Central America or even Viet Nam I found myself wondering which sixties decade saw his radicalisation When Chimanada Ngozi Adichie tells us that he travels to Lagos to attend a function in honour of the state funeral of Winston Churchill perhaps no relation , I began to wonder if he was an early or indeed late born radical Tory I have been an expatriate myself, so I can forgive him his attendance of the function, but not his total silence on the issues of the day.This becomes especially problematic when both Britain and the Soviet Union are mentioned as assisting the Federal Forces in the destruction of secessionist Biafra What sixties radical, given the inevitability of his assumption of a Cold War bifurcated paradigm to underpin his ideological position, would not have pondered and discussed this at length, even in bed Eventually we also have to read along with continued adulation of Ojukwu His Excellency might even be the Great Helmsman, himself, given that his free thinking minions seem unable to mention a criticism of an historical character who eventually fled to Ivory Coast to save his skin and live his life in relative comfort after leaving millions of his own people dead Perhaps he had to be preserved to fight another day, as he eventually did, if in a different way, but surely no sixties radical would have left his role unquestioned It doesn t ring true, and an opportunity to develop a character like Richard through his own and inevitable disillusion was ignored.And then we are presented with a pair of American journalists that the radical Richard has to greet and service in his role as a promoter of the Biafran cause They are both called Charles and apparently have the same nickname, Chuck which surely should have been Charlie of the right variety to enhance the farce They are simply not credible We can probably accept as deadly accurate that the majority of Americans neither knew where Biafra was nor cared a jot about its plight, since the attentions of the politicised were focused elsewhere at the time But the presentation of a pair of foreign correspondents as crass as these is surely incredible, as is, equally, Richard s apparent patience in dealing with them.I did also become mildly annoyed at what became quite extensive use of Igbo words when they seemed to offer no extra flavour, meaning or understanding I have no problem with the use of local terms to enhance a feeling of place and sound, but their over use tends to obfuscate We really wanted to know what these people thought, but we were never told.So what are we left with Half of a Yellow Sun is a beautifully written, beautifully composed domestic tale of fidelity, infidelity, loyalty and opportunism The contrast between the characters and therefore the nation s lives at the start and the end of the decade is engaging But because their psyches are never really explored, we never understand any motives or, therefore, any consequences Reading Half of a Yellow Sun was a thoroughly enjoyable experience which, with hindsight, I would have foregone. Really loved this book Some of the characters were a bit bland and boring but it still kept me interested in them Loved Igwu Wish there was a book just about him. With Effortless Grace, Celebrated Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Illuminates A Seminal Moment In Modern African History Biafra S Impassioned Struggle To Establish An Independent Republic In Southeastern Nigeria During The Late S We Experience This Tumultuous Decade Alongside Five Unforgettable Characters Ugwu, A Thirteen Year Old Houseboy Who Works For Odenigbo, A University Professor Full Of Revolutionary Zeal Olanna, The Professor S Beautiful Young Mistress Who Has Abandoned Her Life In Lagos For A Dusty Town And Her Lover S Charm And Richard, A Shy Young Englishman Infatuated With Olanna S Willful Twin Sister Kainene Half Of A Yellow Sun Is A Tremendously Evocative Novel Of The Promise, Hope, And Disappointment Of The Biafran War She did it again And she did it again masterfully While reading this novel I was often thinking of Garc a M rquez s words The worst enemy of politicians is a writer and I would amplify that with not only of politicians Now, I m not sure if Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has had intention to accuse probably not but you cannot avoid truth and, as always truth is hurting so badly.Half of a Yellow Sun related with Biafran flag, look the photo is a story about birth and short life of Biafra, life that ended in one of the worst possible way while the world was silent when they died Before reading this book I didn t know much about Biafra, I didn t even know it was an independent country blush I should know that For me Biafra was a synonym for starvation, for hunger, misery, I was always picturing children with huge bellies and limbs like toothpicks Now I know the word for that kwashiorkor , difficult word isn t it Everything started 1960 when Nigeria independence from British colonialism few years later there was a coup d tat led by Igbo tribe Since Nigeria was the country with many clans ethnic tension started to sparkle between Muslim Hausa and Christian Igbo clans and eventually resulted with ethnic cleansing of Igbos that were living in the north of the country with Muslim majority Because of that atrocity Igbo clan has proclaimed independence of theirs own country named after Biafran Bay in the southeast of Nigeria the problem was, as one of the characters said was the fact that Biafra has huge oil reserves Few countries have recognized new country, however the most powerful ones i.e United Kingdom and Soviet Union supported Nigeria with military supplies and after three years 1967 1970 the war of Biafra secession ended in a humanitarian catastrophe as Nigerian blockades stopped all supplies, military and civilian alike, from entering the region Hundreds of thousands perhaps millions people died in the resulting famine.The story has been told through the lives of three very different people Ugwu,13 year old boy from some remote village who is starting to work as a houseboy in the house of university professor with revolutionary aspirations Ugwu is a magnificent source of Nigerian African folklore and mythology His superstitious ness is beautiful, pure and incredibly authentic Being uneducated his provincialism and thinking of everything authentically African as inferior comparing with everything British is very strong I sound as if I m justifying his attitude with that being uneducated , well it s really hard dislike Ugwu Olanna, young women with university diploma from London, member of Nigerian aristocracy who rejected privileged life and follow her heart Strong, modern, enthusiastic woman with strong vision of her future life liberated from the chains of her family s expectations.Third one is Richard, man I identified myself with He s an Englishman who came in Nigeria because he fell in love with the ancient piece of local art I think I could do the same Man who being white has had to put much effort to prove himself as true Biafran and was doing this in the best possible way.What I especially like is that all three main characters are real humans they are not flawless On the contrary, they are making horrible mistakes which might be even unforgivable under different circumstances.But this is not only story about the war War with its horror is scenery for the story of love, loyalty, friendship, betrayal, forgiveness about fight and survival It is very universal story placed in one precise historical context.Truth, some of the scenes are so graphically described that I had to close the book and take a deep breath before continue But of course why should she use euphemism for truth In spite that this is really page turner I was little afraid after warning from the back cover I wasted last fifty pages, reading them far too greedily and fast, because I couldn t bear to let go but I ve done the same and of course then reread them.This is one testimony of the things that mustn t be forgotten And oh, don t be surprised if you find your eyes filled with tears In spite the fact that last sentence wasn t surprise for me, that I expected that, I couldn t help myself 5 At the gates, Biafran soldiers were waving cars through They looked distinguished in their khaki uniforms, boots shining, half of a yellow sun sewn on their sleeves This story tracks a family as they transition from a position of influence and privilege with large, comfortable homes in Nigeria, to become citizens of the newly formed republic of Biafra After a slow to me beginning, I ended up fascinated by the story, the family, the people on the fringes of the family, the history, the culture, everything The family circle shrinks from a large, influential group before hostilities arise, to smaller units as they separate to escape and hide They don t know whom to trust and are reduced to living in slums This part reminded me of the Jews during WW2, gradually cut off from business and mainstream society, then confined to their homes, then pushed into cramped ghettoes as their homes were requisitioned by the Nazis, then you know the horrifying rest In Biafra, young men were captured and uniformed, not by the Nigerian enemy, but by their own Biafran army those distinguished looking soldiers above Women were raped regularly under all sorts of pretexts collusion, wrong accent, whatever handy excuse by soldiers from both sides.This was Biafra, where the people were starved into submission to bring them back into Nigeria.Of course I knew about starving kids in Biafra Sure I did the same way I know about a lot of things superficial awareness of photographs and articles about something happening a long way away from me and mine I didn t read reviews before reading this book, but I liked Adichie s Americanah and was aware this was also about Nigeria and had won some prizes For the first third or so of the story, I was a little impatient with the mix of family story and politics, where characters seemed to suddenly go from local gossip about hairstyles, etc to sudden heated conversations about government, saying things like pan Africanism is fundamentally a European notion As the story moved on, I also got a little confused by so many names beginning with O I expect that s just my unfamiliarity with the names, as a non English speaker could have trouble with characters named Marianne, Margaret, and Marty So I did have to backtrack occasionally to remember who was who.Adichie uses many Igbo words, always in italics, and sometimes translates phrases when she thinks it s necessary I d have liked a little glossary just because I enjoy languages, but I eventually recognised some and got enough of the gist not to mind.There are 520 languages spoken in Nigeria Wikipedia, footnoted reference , and when people speak each other s language, there may prejudice when an accent is noticed In the US, a strong New York accent might sound foreign and suspect in the deep South In the UK, a Cockney accent might be considered unsuitable in executive offices What a judgemental lot we are.Illustration of main language groups of Nigeria from News of Nigeria The Igbo some say Ibo are the group our characters belong to They are interesting, as are the family dynamics and the class structure of Nigeria, with its very privileged and its dirt poor peasant servants Twin sisters Olanna and Kainene look and behave differently Olanna is our focus, she whom a young servant boy, newly arrived from his village, describes with worshipful wonder she looked like she was not supposed to be walking and talking like everyone else she should be in a glass case like the one in Master s study, where people could admire her curvy, fleshy body, where she would be preserved untainted There was something polished about her voice, about her she was like the stone that lay right below a gushing spring, rubbed smooth by years and years of sparkling water, and looking at her was similar to finding that stone, knowing that there were so few like it Olanna s partner is Odenigbo, a revolutionary professor pro independence , while sister Kainene works with their father, negotiating lucrative, possibly questionable government contracts They are the privileged Kainene s partner is Richard, a white Englishman, interested in antiquities and art, who would like to see equality in Nigeria, but who is entranced by Kainene s powerful personality.They represent the fundamental difference between political ideologies Responding to Richard s suggestion that socialism could lead to economic justice, Kainene declaresSocialism would never work for the IgboShe held the brush suspended in mid airOgbenyealu is a common name for girls and you know what it meansNot to Be Married by a Poor ManTo stamp that on a child at birth is capitalism at its bestI wish I d had a map to refer to, because I didn t know where places were when skirmishes escalated into war and there was a border as Biafra proclaimed itself a country, with soldiers, uniforms and flag as in the first quote Biafra was roughly the southeast corner of Nigeria Map of Nigeria 2015 election and Biafra and inset with Africa From GeocurrentsTo give you some idea of the size of Nigeria compared to the US, here s a map, which also shows Americans what the different American accents might be in an area like this.Map of Nigeria superimposed over USA From waitbutwhy.comAs I write in 2017, civil wars seem even of a threat, as each cultural and language group strives for recognition, at least Not only those in Africa, but the First Nations people of many countries are trying to salvage something from the ruins of colonialism.This was in important book when it was written, and I think it s worth reading now, to see what can happen when ideologies bump up against each other in your part of the world. When Nigeria gained its independence from Britain in 1960, it stood to be one of the most prosperous, productive, and influential nations on the continent Rich with natural resources, including vast reserves of oil, it possessed an educated middle class and a cultural life that blended multiple ethnic groups, languages and religions in a vast and vibrant collective Like many African nations colonized by Europeans, its borders had been drawn with little regard for political and cultural realities In Nigeria, those realities were the political divisions that fell largely along ethnic lines a mostly Muslim population in the North, dominated by Hausa and Fulani Igbo in the southeast Yoruba in the southwest Only six years after independence, Nigeria began to fall apart A coup destroyed the fragile trust between these ethnic groups and a portion of eastern Nigeria declared itself the free state of Biafra In July 1967, the Nigerian Civil War, known colloquially as the Biafran War, began Thirty months later over one million Biafrans had died from fighting and famine In January 1970, Biafra surrendered and was reabsorbed into Nigeria It is an epic story that few outside of the region or African Studies departments on European and American university campuses recall, much less make sense of This is why we have always needed storytellers This is why, in this age of scroll and skim journalism, we need storytellers than ever.Let s be honest How many of us would pick up a work of narrative non fiction, no matter how well written, to learn about the Biafran War Do we know the first thing about Nigeria hell, about Africa This is how fiction changes the world Despite our best efforts at ignorance, fiction brings the world to us, takes us inside the lives of those whose histories, realities, battles are so very different from our own The imagined stories lead us to the factual ones We find ourselves searching out the history, reading the articles, the long form journalism pieces, perhaps even the books, asking, How did this happen and I knew nothing about it What is this place Who are the Igbo, the Hausa, and why does it matter now Let Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tell you why this nation, the war, this story matters Let her characters into your heart and wince as they break it, over and over again Half of a Yellow Sun which takes its name from the emblem of Biafra reveals a Nigeria that could have been, before it became a nation split by war Set in the early and late 1960s, the narrative revolves around twin sisters, Olanna and Kainene, members of the Igbo lite Both women are single and live independently from their Lagos based parents Olanna and her lover Odenigbo share a home in the southern city of Nsukka, where they teach at the university Kainene manages her father s business affairs from her home in Port Harcourt and falls in love with a British writer, Richard Olanna is the story s principal voice, but it is Odenigbo s young houseboy, Ugwu, who provides the most poignant perspective, while Richard offers a detached counterpoint of someone yearning to fit in, but whose very skin signals, Outsider Half of a Yellow Sun is magnificent in detail I heard, smelled, saw, felt, tasted the world that Adichie painstakingly creates Her heart beats with such fierce love for and pride in Nigeria that the country becomes a character in its own right, and as a reader, you witness its tearing apart with such dread and sorrow Adichie was born in 1977, but she lost family members to war and famine and surely was raised in the shadow of tragedy Yet her goal is not to tell a history of the political struggle, but to let us feel the human conflict The plot framework is built on the conflict between ethnic groups and political factions, but the story rises from the families and lovers separated by cultural, moral, and emotional borders.There is a slight dip and drag to the pace as we learn the depths of misunderstanding and animosity between the sisters, or witness the unraveling of the radical Odenigbo, or dip into Richard s ingratiating attempts to be accepted by Nigerians Adichie s paintbrush drips thick, rich colors that swirl together in a dense mix of characters and details But everything about her writing is so warm and lush and welcoming, you just want her to go on and on, filling every inch of the canvas with her beautifully crafted phrases, her characters full of curves and silky skin, her streets vibrating with High Life music.And when sorrow and brutality and suffering come, and come they will, you will want to look away You will not want to believe that this really happened But happen it did Happen it does still Still a powerful, vibrant nation with vast natural resources, Nigeria is once again in the headlines And the news is not good NPR Boko Haram Fighters Seize Nigerian Army Base JANUARY 05, 2015 5 02 AM ET Ofeibea Quist Arcton Too often we turn away from these current events because we don t understand the complexities of nations too distant to cause a ripple in our morning coffee Because we have disaster and conflict fatigue These places matter only when we ve been touched personally by events Outside of time spent living in a place, reading a great work of literature, one that makes the political personal and the foreign familiar, is the best way to ensure we remain aware of and moved by the world around us For Nigeria s sake, Half of a Yellow Sun is just such a book.