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Listening to the Silence

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Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

When Britain pulled out of their African colonies, they left behind them a host of problems that in many ways they had created. In Nigeria, they combined several tribes who lived along the Niger River into a single colony. Most populous among them were the Hausa in the north and the Igbo in the south. The British colonists had sewn discord among these people and stirred up enmity that boiled over in the 1960s with all out war. The Igbo people attempted to form their own nation, Biafra, but the world refused to acknowledge their fledgling new republic. In the face of this silence, Nigeria invaded, aided by Russian, British, and Egyptian bombers. While they tried to hold off the Nigerians, the people of Biafra starved. For three years war raged, while hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children died. Half of a Yellow Sun tells their story through the eyes of Odenigbo, an intellectual and revolutionary; Olanna, his lover; their houseboat Ugwu; Olanna's twin sister Kainene; and Richard, a British expatriate and journalist who stays to support the Biafran Republic.


This was an absolutely incredible story of a dark time in world history. It is incredibly troubling to read this novel and know that the governments of all the world's powers just stood there and did nothing. Having been born ten years after the conclusion of this war I knew nothing of it. My only familiarity with the subject was the oft repeated refrain "There are children starving in Africa" to force to clear my plate of every bite of food. This is one of those books that I strongly believe should be taught in schools, while it is a fictionalized account of the events and the author admits to taking liberties with the historical events, it is something that everyone should know, so that we do not allow it to happen again.


My only quibble with this book is that it is hard to connect with some of the characters. At the beginning especially I felt that the author wrote with a detachment that prevented me from fully engaging. Only once the war had begun in earnest did I really come to care, about the characters and what happened to them. Despite this, I know it is a book I will not soon forget and I feel better for having read.