*** About the Book ***
There is a lot going on in this book but at its core it is the story of Nigeria in the 1960s.
Here is my huge oversimplification of the background, but I think you'll get the idea:
During the 1960s, in the throes of post-colonialism, military coups first reversed the power dynamic within Nigeria then restored it. One large tribal group responded to its disenfranchisement (and to the ongoing violence) by breaking off from Nigeria and forming the country of Biafra. Nigeria did not recognize Biafra as an independent nation though, and a war ensued. Three years later the war ended with Nigeria being one united nation again, albeit not necessarily a peaceful and happy one.This book focuses on the people of one moderately wealthy household (as well as their families and friends), and follows their experiences over almost 10 years.
*** Why I Listened to It ***
This book is on the 1,001 Books list, so it counts toward the 1% Well Read Challenge. I've also heard great things about it.
*** My Thoughts ***
I feel like I should have loved this book. Don't get me wrong, it was a very good book ... I just think I should like it more than I actually did.
It is certainly not the fault of the characters. The people in this book are fully fleshed out, they are dynamic, they are real. Each character has his or her own qualities and flaws and they continue to exist in my mind as if they were living people. Ugwu disappoints me, Richard is weak, Olanna is amazing and resilient, and Kainene ... oh, how I love Kainene, with her biting tongue and her independence.
It is also not the fault of the story itself. This book is like a slice of life, taking everything that happened over a ten-year period and presenting it to the reader in all its beauty and its horror; the events of this story were the reality of life for people in Nigeria and Biafra at the time. The beginning felt slow to me but in retrospect this allowed Adichie to bring me fully into the story and allow me to understand the differences in life before and during the war.
Maybe it is the subject matter? This is in part a story of war, and war is truly horrible. I don't think that is my problem though.
Maybe it is because this part of the world is not as familiar to me? Maybe I don't have a vested interest? I don't think that's it either.
I think part of the problem is that I wanted to react to this book in the same way I did to The Poisonwood Bible. I loved that book from the very first few pages, and I've reread it several times. Maybe the fact that the main characters are white Americans and I could identify with them contributed to that? If so, is that the source of my disconnect with this book? I really don't know.
What I do know is that this is an ambitious novel. It succeeds in conveying the upheaval of a society through the lens of one family, and it does so with beautiful writing. And yet I didn't love it.
*** Thoughts on the Narrator ***
I don't think I've heard Robin Miles narrate before but I'm very pleased with her performance. She handled a wide variety of accents such as Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, English, and American, in a convincing way (I say "convincing" rather than "correct" because I'm unfamiliar with several of these accents) and she has an incredible range of voices at her command.
Also: Because I do not have experience with any of the myriad languages spoken in Africa I often have difficulty reading a book that includes place or people names in those languages. I like to "hear" the correct pronunciation in my head as I read and often I'm not able to figure out what the correct pronunciation is. It is enough of a problem for me that it will impede my enjoyment of a book. For that reason books like this work very well for me in audio format.
*** Your Thoughts ***
Please let me know what YOU think of this book - Have you read it? Do you want to?
It's been a while since I linked to a bunch of other reviews but I think this book deserves that attention. Like I said, I feel like I should have loved it more than I did, and many of these other reviews explain what is truly wonderful about this book.
- Amy Reads did an excellent review of this book, including a bit of a history lesson - I highly recommend that you check out her post
- Things Mean A Lot gives very thorough commentary on the book and the ways in which it successfully shows that "the personal is political"
- At Home With Books concludes her review by saying, "Yes, there are heartbreaking moments - how could there not be in a book about civil war? But, the stories of Ugwu, Richard, Olanna, Kainene and Odenigbo are full of life."
- Book Chatter read this 500+ page book as part of her book club and she highly recommends it
- Maw Books reacted the same why I did to one character's bad decision, but she is more forgiving of him than I am
- Violet Crush says the characters will "remain etched in your mind long after the book is over" - I couldn't agree more.
- Trish's Reading Nook felt the same way about Richard that I did, but we disagree on the ending of the book (I didn't think it could end any other way)