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Monday, October 11, 2010

Half of a Yellow Sun

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
audiobook: 19 hours
narrated by Robin Miles

Half of a Yellow Sun*** 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)


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Hmmmm...this is on my 2010 TBR list. I am currently listening to Poisonwood Bible and LOVE it so I am hoping that I will like this book a bit more than you.

Thanks for fleshing out the possible reasons why i wasn't a home run for you.

Laura said...

I really liked this book! This is what I said on Goodreads, which I tend to use as a place to jot down my thoughts, not as a place to review. "I read this book during my summer vacation. I loved the way the author shifted the characters that she followed through the books. Their lives were woven together while reflecting individual stories and personalities. I knew almost nothing about Biafra before I read this book and I learned something new about a small, short-lived nation while reading a novel I really enjoyed."

Also, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was awarded a 2008 MacArthur Genius Award, which is pretty cool.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Bibliophile By the Sea - I hope you do enjoy Half of a Yellow Sun - it a honestly a very good book, just not the best fit for me. The Poisonwood Bible, on the other hand ... now THAT is an excellent book!

Laura - Welcome to my blog - thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I agree with you about the book - I learned a lot and think that the author is very talented. Unfortunately it just didn't resonate with me the way I hoped it would. Glad to know that you enjoyed it so much though!

Alyce said...

I still haven't read The Poisonwood Bible, but it's on my shelf. Reading about how much you liked is making me move it up on my mental list of books I need to read sooner than later.

Literary Feline said...

I'm sorry this book didn't work for you better, Heather, although I'm glad you liked it still. This was one I loved when I read it. It really moved me and stayed with me for days afterward. Not all books affect people the same though.

I haven't read The Poisonwood Bible, although I tried twice to get into it. It was bad timing, I think, and perhaps one of these days I'll try again.

Amy said...

Thank you so much to the link to my post. It was a truly heartbreaking book, so I can see why you might not love it as much. I am also highly invested in Nigerian lit, so the place names and language is a little more familiar to me :)

Anonymous said...

I have been meaning to read this for a long while now, and Amy's and Ana's enthousiasm has only made that stronger. I'm afraid my expectations, like yours, might be a little bit too high? I don't want to be disappointed.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Alyce - I can't wait to see what you think of it - it's one of my all-time favorites.

Literary Feline - See, that's why I feel like I should have loved this one - so many other bloggers I trust did love it. But ah well, that's just how it goes. And maybe you wouldn't love TPB in the same way that I did - who knows ...

Amy - I still can't put my finger on what it was that made me disconnect from this book ... but I'm happy to link to your review since you did such an excellent job providing much needed background to the history in the book.

irisonbooks - I'd suggest that you give it a try anyway - you may like it more than I did, especially since I can't figure out why it didn't work for me.

Wendy said...

Oh, I LOVED this was my first experience with Adiche's writing and I was blown away. Sorry the novel didn't impact you in the same way...that said, I hope you'll try her again.t

Mystica said...

The reviews are fairly postive as the book seems to be one which has left a strong impression on most. I would certainly like to read this. Thank you for your honest review.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Wendy - I had read one of her short stories prior to this and really enjoyed her writing. I do think she is extremely talented and I will definitely read other books/stories from her.

Mystica - You're right, most people seem to like it more than I did. I hope that you enjoy it!

S. Krishna said...

I'm definitely going to give this one a try, but I'll read it in print. Hopefully I will like it! I loved Purple Hibiscus.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

S. Krishna - I want to read Purple Hibiscus as well so I'm glad to know you enjoyed it!

Ti said...

My problem with this book was the main character. I read it some time ago for book club but I seem to recall not completely loving her. She wasn't all that least for me.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Ti - You make a good point - I never did really identify with Olanna, though she did seem to develop and change a bit as the story went along. Kainene was much more appealing as a character to me.

Athira said...

I really want to read this one, mainly because I've heard so much about it. Such books I end up not enjoying too much, most of the time. Also, I find that if I am not too familiar with the subject matter, it affects my enjoyment of the book, because of so many things that are new.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

Aths - Yes, I am the same way - if a subject is completely foreign to me I often have a hard time getting into the book. Maybe that was part of the problem for me here ...

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