Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun

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The latest addition to my website is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s Half of a Yellow Sun, a stunning novel about the period just before and during the Biafran War. Adichie is an Igbo, the tribe on the losing side in the Biafran War so she naturally tells the tale from the side of her people who suffer a lot from the war. It is estimated that over a million people died, many from disease and starvation, during the war. Adichie focusses primarily on five people. Odenigbo is a university lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka. he is very pro-Igbo and against colonialism (he is very critical of the British), racism and non-Igbo Nigerians. He meets and falls in love with Olanna, who has recently obtained her Master’s in London and comes to work at the same university. They move in together and, eventually, marry. Olanna has a twin sister, Kainene, who starts a relationship with Richard Churchill, a white Englishman, who has come to Nigeria to write a book about Igbo-Ukwu art, though the book changes its focus during the course of this novel. The fifth key character is Ugwa, who is thirteen at the start of the novel. He is Odenigbo’s houseboy and is fiercely loyal to Odenigbo and then to Olanna as well but gives us an interesting and different perspective on events. We follow the gradual build-up to the war and then the war itself. Adichie spares us no details of the war – death, brutality, corruption, rape, starvation, kwashiorkor and arbitrary violence on a large scale. Our protagonists have to flee the advancing Nigerian army and, inevitably, suffer a lot during the course of the war. Adichie tells us a very fine tale of the horrors of war, albeit from the perspective of her people, and this is a book that deservedly has a very high reputation. It has been made into a film, which has had a few problems.

Helen Oyeyemi: Mr Fox

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The latest addition to my website is Helen Oyeyemi‘s Mr Fox. This is a modern updating on the Bluebeard legend. St John Fox is a 1930s US writer whose novels features unpleasant things done to women. Mary Foxe, who is entirely a figment of his imagination, berates him for his treatment of the women. Oyeyemi, using Yoruba myths and inventive storytelling, including fairy tales, as Fox and Foxe slug it out, gives us a fascinating but contrived account of their relationship. When Fox’s real-life wife, Daphne, gets involved and jealous of Mary, things get more heated. While the book is very inventive, witty and has a very valid message, it did not quite work for me. Oyeyemi was one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists.