#TheEverygirlReads: Half of a Yellow Sun

Happy almost February, Everygirls! The month of January came and went so quickly, so I hope you’ve stayed caught up on your reading!

In case you missed it, we’ve committed to reading one book a month in 2016 and we want you to join in on the fun. Even if you didn’t participate in January or didn’t quite finish your book, hop in and join us for February.

While Adichie’s characters are fictional, the world through which they navigate is not.

I chose to read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the month of January. I fell in love with Adichie’s writing when I read Americanah earlier last year and I was desperate to read more of her work. What I found was something entirely different than I expected: Not the biting commentary on race and relationships in modern-day America, but rather a look back into a forgotten time and place, a country, born out of civil war, that only existed for three years.

While Adichie’s characters are fictional, the world through which they navigate is not: Late 1960’s Nigeria, freed from British colonial rule less than a decade earlier. Social and political unrest and animosity between tribes—Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo—push the nation towards civil war and, eventually, prompt the Igbo to secede and form their own country: The Republic of Biafra.

People who, idealistic and full of hope, chose the losing side in a war.

I should probably be embarrassed to admit that I never knew about Biafra before reading this book. Truth be told, I knew very little about Nigeria at all, beyond what I’d already learned from Adichie’s writing.

But even though American history books have forgotten a nation so short-lived it never saw its fourth birthday, Adichie’s book makes it perfectly clear that it did exist. There was a Biafra—made up of real people with real families—who, idealistic and full of hope, chose the losing side in a war.

Overall, I appreciated Adichie’s ability to ask hard questions: What consequenses follow when white colonists arrive in a new country and draw arbitrary borders, and what do those borders look like when the colonists leave? And in civil war, who benefits the most? “Starvation and war aided the careers of the journalists and photographers,” she writes, and the truth in her words is shocking.

There’s nothing satisfying or predictable about the end of a messy, brutal civil war.

But beyond the political themes (and really, I don’t think Adichie would write a book without political themes) Half of a Yellow Sun is a love story. It’s a love story between a husband and wife, between two twin sisters, between a woman and a baby who isn’t hers. It’s a love story between the Igbo people and Biafra, a nation they hoped would do better in a world plagued by corruption.

It isn’t a perfect book. Some characters stayed flat more than I would have liked, vehicles for the plot instead of fully formed human beings. Beyond that, I was distrubed at first by the feeling of dissatisfaction I had at the end. There was no grand culmination of events and nothing tied up neatly in a bow. Only days after finishing did I see the brilliance in it, that Adichie knew better than to write a satisfying, predictable ending when there is nothing satisfying or predictable about the end of a messy, brutal civil war.

I didn’t relate to Half of a Yellow Sun as strongly as I did Americanah, which took place in my own country during a time I remembered and lived through. But it’s still an important read and I feel I was, in many ways, bettered by what I’d learned.

And for the month of February, I decided to read more from an American author I know and love: Maya Angelou.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an American classic, one that I hope you’ll add to your reading list this year. If you don’t want to read Angelou along with me in February, feel free to pick another book and share what it is in the comments below!

Be sure to give up updates on your progress using #TheEverygirlReads on Twitter and Instagram.