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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-04-22 18:01
Biafra: The World Was Silent When We Died
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,Zainab Jah

Half of a Yellow Sun is named for the centerpiece of the Biafran flag:

* Red for the blood of those massacred in northern Nigeria after the country's 1960 independence; in the time period leading up to the Nigeria-Biafra war, and in that war itself;

* Black for mourning them and in remembrance;

* Green for prosperity;

* And half of a yellow / golden sun for a glorious future: The sun has eleven rays, representing the eleven provinces of Biafra.

 

 

In this novel, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells the inside story of the Nigeria-Biafra war, of the anti-Igbo massacres preceding it, and of the short-lived Republic of Biafra roughly corresponding with the area chiefly inhabited by the Igbo (as well as the Ibibio, and Ijaw) and, in colonial times, known as Eastern Region of Nigeria: to this day, the political period most haunting Nigeria and its people.

 

Though the novel is not autobiographical (Adichie was born several years after the war ended), it is inspired by the experience of Adichie's parents, as well as numerous other eyewitnesses, who individually and collectively informed her protagonists: middle class twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, their lovers -- university professor and political activist Odenigbo, and English journalist and would-be novelist Richard Churchill (a distant relative of Winston) --, and last but not least Odenigbo and Olanna's houseboy Ugwu.  Through their eyes, and chiefly through those of Ugwu, Olanna and Richard, Adichie conveys a fragmented and multi-faceted image of the events, from the search for an authentic post-colonial (national? Igbo? pan-African?) identity to the shock and sheer terror of the anti-Igbo massacres -- primarily in Northern Nigeria --, the euphoria accompanying the foundation of the Republic of Biafra, and finally the unspeakable horror of a war conducted, on the Nigerian side, by way of a systematic campaign of starvation, shutting off Biafra's access to necessary food products and producing the images which have come to define the word "Biafra" once and for all to this day.

 

 

Although these images were front page news all over the world, and relief organizations such as the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders (which in fact owes its very existence to the Nigeria-Biafra war) did the best they could to battle the impossible odds, most of the First World stood by and let events take their course, out of a mixture of political self-interest, ignorance, sheer disbelief, and helpless apathy in the face of the enormity of the genocide.

 

In the novel, it is initially Richard, who has come to identify with the Igbo at least as much, or even more than with his English roots, who tries to convey a sense of what is happening inside Biafra to the outside world, through newspaper articles published in England and North America.  But his big project, a book about the Igbo (initially about their history and art; later on, about the war), keeps getting thwarted, and he ultimately abandons it:

"Ugwu fumbled, awkwardly, for something to say. 'Are you still writing your book, sah?'

'No.'

'"The World Was Silent When We Died".  It is a good title.'

'Yes, it is.  It came from something Colonel Madu said once.'

Richard paused.  'The war isn't my story to tell, really.'

Ugwu nodded.  He had never thought that it was."

And in fact, it will end up being Ugwu himself who writes that very book.  As it should be -- the story of Biafra, and the Nigeria-Biafra war, is for the Igbo and the Nigerians themselves to tell, first and foremost.  That obviously doesn't mean the rest of the world should ever stand by and keep silent in the face of war and genocide; but Adichie's point here (and I agree with her) is about authenticity, both cultural and emotional:

"I taught an introductory creative writing class at Princeton last year and, in addition to the classic 'show don't tell', I often told my students that their fiction needed to have 'emotional truth' [...]: a quality different from honesty and more resilient than fact, a quality that existed not in the kind of fiction that explains but in the kind of fiction that shows.  All the novels I love, the ones I remember, the ones I re-read, have this empathetic human quality.  And because I write the kind of fiction I like to read, when I started Half of a Yellow Sun [...], I hoped that emotional truth would be its major recognizable trait. [...]

 

Successful fiction does not need to be validated by 'real life'; I cringe whenever a writer is asked how much of a novel is 'real'.  Yet, [...] to write realistic fiction about war, especially one central to the history of one's own country, is to be constantly aware of a responsibility to something larger than art.  While writing Half of a Yellow Sun, I enjoyed playing with minor things [such as inventing a train station in a town that has none].  Yet I did not play with the central events of that time.  I could not let a character be changed by anything that had not actually happened.  If fiction is indeed the soul of history, then I was equally committed to the fiction and the history, equally keen to be true to the spirit of the time as well as to my artistic vision of it. 

 

The writing itself was a bruising experience. [...] But there were also moments of extravagant joy when I recognized, in a character or moment or scene, that quality of emotional truth."

 

(Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, In the Shadow of Biafra -- essay included in the 2007 Harper Perennial edition of Half of a Yellow Sun).

Half of a Yellow Sun has been called everything from "stunning" and "a landmark novel" to "heartbreaking", "exquisitely written, "a literary masterpiece" and "a classic" (the last four of these, in one and the same sentence of a Daily Mail review blurbed on the front cover of my edition).  The novel is probably all of these things, and yet, let's face it, all of these terms are nothing so much as well-worn reviewer's clichésSince they're the coinage by which professional reviewers the world over operate, I'm sure Ms. Adichie still preferred getting plenty of this sort of accolades over being ripped apart by these same professional reviewers' mercilessly acidic tongues, which the same time-honored traditions of the trade reserve for books not considered worth the respective reviewer's precious time. -- Being a mere amateur, I'm going to content myself with saying that this novel is precisely what Ms. Adichie hoped it would be: an emotionally brutally honest book; a fragment of Nigerian history told through the eyes of a small, diverse, and devastatingly flawed group of people.

 

(And of course I'm going to count this towards the letter "A" of the Women Writers Bingo ... never mind that I've already read another book qualifying for that particular square.)

 

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review 2018-02-16 07:32
Good read for girls
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Lovely. We should all have a friend like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to write us letters and cheer us on in whatever endeavors we want to do. If you've thought at all about feminism, class, race, gender bias, you'll have thought many of these things already, but I bet you wouldn't put them so tenderly and with as much love. (Or maybe you would, in which case, you should -- we need more books like this for everyone!)

 

A really great gift idea for anyone with girls or girls themselves.

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url 2018-01-24 15:42
Best Nonfiction Books of 2017 (per overdrive for library ebooks)
Convergence: The Idea at the Heart of Science - Peter Watson
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America - Richard Rothstein
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women - Kate Moore
How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain - Lisa Feldman Barrett
Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes - Amy Sutherland
Dying: A Memoir - Cory Taylor
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry - Neil deGrasse Tyson
The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation - Randall Fuller
Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are - Seth Stephens-Davidowitz

I just linked a few, no particular order or topic.  See the link for full list.  Lots of political ones.  And book pages have more suggested reads on them ... I think I will be going down the rabbithole of my library wishlists ...

Source: lfpl.overdrive.com/collection/109107
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review 2018-01-21 15:12
Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Reading this book felt a little bit like eavesdropping on a personal conversation but it was still interesting and would probably be more relevant to actual parents and those who interact with children, both girls and boys (hey, part of the problem is that we treat boys differently so we should be conscious of how we're treating both).

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review 2018-01-08 17:43
Let the Church Say Amen
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Guys. Run and get this letter and give it to your sons and daughters. I am going to be copies to send to my nieces right now. This was just fantastic.

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie took us to church and had us on the floor with the Holy Spirit and had us up and stamping our feet. Image result for amen gif

 

Asked by her close friend about how to raise her daughter to be a feminist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie provides her friend with 15 suggestions. 

First Suggestion: Be a full person.

Second Suggestion: Do it together.

Third Suggestion: Teach her that the idea of "gender roles" is absolute nonsense.

Fourth Suggestion: Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite.

Fifth Suggestion: Teach Chizalum to read. 

Sixth Suggestion: Teach her to question language.

Seventh Suggestion: Never speak of marriage as an achievement.

Eighth Suggestion: Teach her to reject likability. 

Ninth Suggestion: Give Chizalum a sense of identity.
Tenth Suggestion: Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance.

Eleventh Suggestion: Teach her to question our culture's selective use of biology as "reasons" for social norms. 

Twelfth Suggestion: Talk to her about sex, and start early.

Thirteenth Suggestion: Romance will happen, so be on board.

Fourteenth Suggestion: In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints.

Fifteenth Suggestion: Teach her about difference.


In each section that goes into these suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives examples of what she is speaking about. She also throws shade at mutual friends/people that she and her friend know that made me laugh.


Here are some of my favorite quotes:

 

Many people believe that a woman’s feminist response to a husband’s infidelity should be to leave. But I think staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the context. If Chudi sleeps with another woman and you forgive him, would the same be true if you slept with another man? If the answer is yes, then your choosing to forgive him can be a feminist choice because it is not shaped by a gender inequality. Sadly, the reality in most marriages is that the answer to that question would often be no, and the reason would be gender-based—that absurd idea of “men will be men,

 

That said, I would take all of my husband's stuff, burn it, and proceed to change the locks on the door. 

 

Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. The pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders, who was the first woman to report from Vietnam during the war (and who was the mother of a son), once gave this piece of advice to a younger journalist: “Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.”

 

My family still treats me like I am a strange creature because I chose to not marry and I choose to not have children. I am happy. Yes, I am single, and yes sometimes I get lonely. But I am lonely for people really, not so much companionship because I love coming home to my house and just being. I tried too hard for years to be the perfect girlfriend, it's nice to just be me and not have anything wrong with that.

 

Our culture celebrates the idea of women who are able to “do it all” but does not question the premise of that praise. I have no interest in the debate about women “doing it all” because it is a debate that assumes that caregiving and domestic work are singularly female domains, an idea that I strongly reject.

 

It drives me up the wall when women and even men go around saying well so and so women shows she can do it all. Fuck that noise. I can't do it all, and I am not married with children. I ask for help. I hire people to do shit for my home, my car. There's nothing wrong with not being able to do it all.

 

Teach her that the idea of “gender roles” is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl. “Because you are a girl” is never a reason for anything. Ever.

 

Enough said.

 

The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.

 

I want this on a pillow somewhere so I can put it in my bedroom. 

 

We also need to question the idea of marriage as a prize to women, because that is the basis of these absurd debates. If we stopped conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.

 

Preach!

 

Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite. It is the idea of conditional female equality. Please reject this entirely. It is a hollow, appeasing, and bankrupt idea. Being a feminist is like being pregnant. You either are or you are not. You either believe in the full equality of men and women or you do not.

 

AMEN!

 

Tell Chizalum that women actually don’t need to be championed and revered; they just need to be treated as equal human beings. There is a patronizing undertone to the idea of women needing to be “championed” and “revered” because they are women. It makes me think of chivalry, and the premise of chivalry is female weakness.

 

I honestly never even thought about it this way before.


There are so many other good quotes that I can be here all day about. 

 

Loved this letter and need to read more by this author. 

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