GROUP READ: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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I've managed to wrangle up a couple of people who are interested in joining me in a discussion of Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in July. I'm hoping starting up a thread right now will entice a few more to join us.
I am new to this group and one of the reasons I joined was that I am interested in group reads. This is a book I would be interested in reading. So how do group reads work here?
I was thinking of this as a rather casual group read. Some people might want to start early, and others late...so there will be people in every stage of reading the book. The only real rule is if your question or comment contains a spoiler please label it ********************SPOILER ALERT!********************************* or something like that, so that people can avoid the comment until they've finished the book.
that's sounds fine. So I would love to join your group read. :)
ETA: We're reading the book THROUGH the month of July, not BY July...just to be clear. :)
Yes, I got the book for my kindle. So once I finished the other two I will get cracking on this one.
Reading this one at present by Michelle Lovric - The Book of Human Skin - a Historical Fiction book and during the times I can not read I am listening to Paolo Bacigalupi - The Windup Girl - a Science Fiction story
And a great thank you to Deern who showed me the link "How to make great things with your thread". Something i enjoy tremendously and makes me feel like this little fellow.
(DB, you are super! I don't know whether you're super squirrely --- for some of us that would be something like a compliment.)
drachenbraut--I agree that it's really nice to be able to do neat things with html code. :) I've been planning on reading The Windup Girl for a while now...
Lizzie - Thank you :):) I am not really a computer wizard and once I discovered how easy this is to use, I had tor try it out. :) :) Maybe a bit much all in all ----------------- but it was really really fun. :) Oh, well THAT'S the child in me, can't help that.
I am really looking forward to this read, I could not resist and had a peek today already.
More particularly for readers of Half of a Yellow Sun may be interested in one essay in particular found on pages 93-103 of that book titled "Chi in Igbo Cosmology." The essay may also be found in the Norton Critical Edition of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Another interesting essay that can be found on the Internet is "Man and his Chi: The Igbo of West Africa" by Chigachi Eke. Nigeriaworld.com/articles/2009/may/242.html
You may have already noticed that the important word chi occurs twice in the author's name Chimamanda Adichie, as well as once in Chinua Achebe's name and twice in Chigachi Eke's name. You will have run across the word in the novel itself. I will quote briefly from "Chi in Igbo Cosmology."
"There are two clearly distinct meanings of "chi" in Igbo. The first is often translated as god, guardian angel, personal spirit, soul, spirit-double, etc. The second meaning is day or daylight...
"I am chiefly concerned here with the first meaning of chi, a concept so central in Igbo psychology and yet so elusive and enigmatic...
"In a general way we may visualize a person's chi as his other identity in spiritland--his spirit-being complementing his terrestrial human being; for nothing can stand alone, there must always be another thing standing beside it."
I'm on chapter six of The Sun is Half Yellow. "Richard ate the pepper soup slowly." Now there's a profound thought just pregnant with meaning.
"She loved the way he (Richard) pronounced Odenigbo's name, stressing it so earnestly. He was avoiding her eyes."
I'll bet that's what I sound like to a Nigerian also, when I try to pronounce Odenigbo's name. I swear no paleface can pronounce Odenigbo's name without sounding like that. "gb" represents a voiced bilabial click, and we wazuri just don't have a sound like that in our language.
No...but I DO so delight in hearing people try to pronounce it. :)
ETA: I haven't started yet, but most likely I will begin within the week.
So far, so good won't tell until everyone is finished *****grin*****
I noticed in chapter 9 there was mention of Yakubu Gowon. He was military governor when I was there.
drachenbraut, good Idea reading a little on the civil war first! But I think there's a deeper current running in the river of post-colonialism, and the Yoruba-Igbo-Hausa rivalry was just an eddy.
The deeper current was the age of nationalism, and the tributary currents are somewhat ambiguous in English, where the word "nation" can refer to the people or to the state. We tend to call the nationalism that goes according to the people "tribalism" and that referring to the state or geographical unit generically "nationalism."
The rivalry between the Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa had roots in that, and the book casually refers to Pan-Africanism and to the problems of the Igbos. Where the book, as far as I have gotten, refers to outrages against Igbos, the Yorubas and Hausas complained that all the countries riches belonged to the Igbos who had the best educations and the best government postitions. (Often true.)
To see the worldwide significance of the two "nationalisms" there were concurrent movements in the Midle East and Far East. In the Middle East it was al-qawmiyyah (from qawm=people nation) and al-wataniyyah (watan=nation state). Our papers called them pan-Arabism and nationalism respectively. The former was typified by the establishment of the United Arab Republic in the fifties (Egypt, Syria, Iraq). The latter was typified by the Ba'ath parties in Syria and in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was of the latter movement.
I hope my ponitfication about African politics isn't too boring; I think it might enlighten some people to undercurrents in the book.
I am a bit farther behind the two of you. :) But I'm really appreciating this book so far!
"the novel form seems to go with the English language. There is a problem with the Igbo language. It suffers from a very serious inheritance, which it received at the beginning of this century from the Anglican mission. They sent out a missionary by the name of Dennis. Archdeacon Dennis. He was a scholar. He had this notion that the Igbo language—which had very many different dialects—should somehow manufacture a uniform dialect that would be used in writing to avoid all these different dialects. Because the missionaries were powerful, what they wanted to do they did. This became the law. But the standard version cannot sing. There's nothing you can do with it to make it sing. It's heavy. It's wooden. It doesn't go anywhere."
This is something what I found very interesting and he also said in one of the text's I found that he thought it was wrong to label the Igbo as a tribe that they should be acknowledged as a nation in the same way as the red indians in the US. This makes more sense know with what you explained with the deeper current of nationalism at that particular time. What I could gather as well was that he was a great supporter for the independence of Biafra.
I have to say I find it very interesting to actually look at the background for this novel. Yes, I have heard about the Biafra War before, but this particular war was not part of my education and so far I had no reason to look into it. This novel is a great opportunity to do so.
Just on the side: I always read one novel at the time, then I usually read one Non-Fiction book on the side and I listen to one audiobook inbetween (when there is not time to physically read) and the audiobook can be something completely different or the same as the novel I am reading. :)
#35 I appreciate the book so far as well. :)
"The store was empty except for a small bag of rice in the corner; weevils crawled all over it."
Famine, always the concomitant of civil war, was the result of Nigeria's blockade of Biafra. I'm sure the book will get more of this later. But weevils don't taste bad, the chitin is soft, and they are a source of protein. The European press (which was what I read while living there) made much of the Igbos eating rats. That was not palatable to many citified Igbos, but it was not unusual in their diet.
The picture is taken from http://cocoafarmingpix.blogspot.com/2010/10/bush-meat.html
I do know that most bugs and insects are edible and that they have a very high protein content. We have got weevils in our garden and I had one sitting on my hand only yesterday.
Yes, weevils are very tiny, and if you cook them with your rice they just look like tiny pieces of husk and have no taste. And yes, they are a source of protein as compared to rice.
39# Yes more smileys - they are fun, they express our good moods, they are friendly, they are comforting .......... and so on and on :) I still have got a few questions for you which I am sure you will be able to answer, but that has to wait as I am worried to give to many spoilers away. I just started Chapter 19.
#25 and #27 - Lisa and Rachel, hope you like Song of Achilles as much as I did. It didn't take me long to read at all - couldn't put it down!
Welcome Cushla! Technically, this is a July group read...it just seems that a few of us are a little ahead. So take your time. We haven't included any spoilers yet and anybody who DOES include spoilers should be sure to mark it that way! I'm really looking forward to Song of Achilles...Everybody I've heard from has loved it.
I have not started reading yet. I have however managed to get my hands on an e-book copy of the book, so that's a good start... I guess I should probably also read up on some of the background. My knowledge of African history is, well... absent :/ Like, I know about us Western Europeans getting slaves from Africa (I'm Dutch; the Dutch used to be great slave-traders :( ) and I know about apartheid, and that's about it...
But rigth now, it's bedtime... Will be back later :)
that bronze pot looks great. Where did you find this?
Yes, I agree I loved this book as well. ;)
Happy reading to everyone. Can't wait until you are all finished ***grin***
Adiche has a new book coming out next year! The Small Redemption of Lagos follows two childhood friends from Nigeria, who are separated when they move to England and the United States, but are later reunited in Lagos. Rights have been sold in Canada (Knopf), Germany (Fischer), Italy (Einaudi), The Netherlands (De Bezige Bij), Portugal (Dom Quixote), Spain (Random House Mondadori), the UK (Fourth Estate) and the US (Knopf). (from this site.) Is this the same as what Amazon lists as Americanah?
Who is the author of the book within the book? (The world was silent while we died.) I'd guess Richard from the placing of it in within the story, but I think I'd be wrong.
Why are Olanna & Kainene estranged? Sisterly jealousy/rivalry? They move in different spheres, Olanna in the academic world & Kainene in the world of business. Olanna thinks this happened sometime while they were studying abroad.
Ardene: Your first question is interesting. I hadn't thought about it. But it becomes more apparent as you read the book.
As for your second question...I think they are estranged because they are so different. Olanna is beautiful, tends to try to please people by not saying everything that's on her mind. She is optimistic and revolutionary. Kainene is striking, but doesn't feel as attractive as her sister. She deals with her parents in a more upfront and brutally honest sort of way. She is a cynic, and probably feels disinterested in her sister's optimistic and revolutionary way of thinking. I think some of it might be jealousy, but I think most of the problem is the optimism vs. cynicism issue.
Does anyone else have an opinion?
I love meeting authors in person as well - it's so nice to meet one in real life and when you read a book by them you sort of have a picture of them in your head .....
In regards to message 37 I just finished this and it was faboulos, informative, interesting, stunning photos, revolting -all emotions you can or can not imagine - Review will come later
PASS THE GRUB
Man Eating Bugs: Art and Science of Eating Insects - Peter Menzel
Although - it still does not want me to even try one - My dad loves snails ***Aaargh***
Have you ever read Papillon?
#74 *giggle* I have eaten twice an insect by accident - and it was hooooooorible. I do it shrimp, crab and lobster as well - I don't like snails. I don't like anything slimy. *Shudder* But I have to say this book was extremely interesting and well written.
Bugs? Intellectually, I understand they're a protein source, but viscerally, I have an ewwww! reaction (except for seafood crab, shrimp, & lobster, yum! + mussels, clams)
I guess I'm getting more and more OT here.
Chinhua Achebe, The African Writer and the Biafran Cause, in p139.
Do you think Achebe's judgment of what an African writer should be are a fair assessment? If so, does Adichie measure up?
To question 1 # I can understand the sentiments behind his needs what an african writer should be, the suffering, the oppressions .... I have not read his essay and found this which is from the same essay.
“The African creative writer who tries to avoid the big social and political issues of contemporary Africa will end up being completely irrelevant—like that absurd man in the proverb who leaves his burning house to pursue a rat fleeing from the flames.”
But - does that mean to him that an acknowledgable african writer only can be one who includes the above in his writing? And if these issues are not addressed within an african writers story these writers are not worthy of being called an african writer?
To question 2 # I agree, I think Adichie did a brilliant job in using the Biafran War as a background for her story, highlighting all the political and social issues leading to it and during the war - without lecturing us on it - and at the same time never loosing the focus on the main story of the five main characters :)
I found some American - African descendents who write something else - such as N.K. Jemisin - she writes YA Fantasy and her The Houndred Thousands Kingdom Trilogy was pretty good.
BTW, I referenced the essay with "p 139" without naming the book. It was Morning Yet on Creation day.
Rachel, you probably remember Ben Okri's The Famished Road. Okri is also Nigerian, but wrote about native culture more than social issues per se. Debo Kotun's Abiku also was a novel that dealt with Nigerian native religion. Both were good novels, but neither has attained the fame of Chinhua Achebe or Wole Soyinka. From the East of Africa, you have Nuriddin Farrah of Somalia. His debut was a trilogy about Somali Culture much more than social issues. However, his recent Past Imperfect trilogy is apparently about the struggles in Somalia. I'm looking forward to reading those and have bought the first in my e-book library. Adichie is doing important work in social issues, and I suspect we're going to hear more of her.
(edited to correct typos)
Your nephew wants me to take him to the park. I will probably finish Half the Yellow Sun while I'm there unless I go to hibernating. :)
As to bug eating: yes, I have eaten bugs, I always say that one should try everything before judging, so I try to stick to my own rule (yes, I know, it's a lousy rule, but still)... That being said, I never really liked any of the bugs I tried. The bugs I've eaten were not eaten raw but cooked or fried, and often salted, which basically makes them crispy and salt, but not having much taste otherwise. It's not like it really tastes bad, but it's not something to get very enthousiastic about.
As for the quote in post #78: I really don't think an African writer necessarily has to include issues of suppression and discrimination. I mean, sure, if it comes up, or if you're writing a book in a setting that requires mentioning it, you shouldn't ignore it, but I can imagine situations in which it might not necessarily be important. Like said in post #83, if you're writing about a different topic, it shouldn't be like you necessarily have to include issues that might not be important to your topic. Though the injustices that have been suffered (and are still being suffered) of course play a large role in the African history, and will probably play a role in many books that are set in Africa, just because you cannot really avoid it, doesn't mean you cannot be taken seriously if you write about something else. There's so many things worth writing about, so many topics that can lead to a wonderful novel, I just don't see the necessity of all African writers including these themes...
When Edna tells Olanna about four little girls dying in a Baptist Church bombing in her hometown, did it add anything of realism for you. Did you relate it to this 1963 incident: "16th St. Baptist Church Bombing" in Birmingham, AL, where four little girls were killed? If so, did that connection to the USA make you feel any different about the story?
What does BTW stand for? - I googled your citation ***grin*** and came up with some more which are apparently from the same essay, it was an analysis of that Essay by Achebe.
Nope - Never heard about that 1963 incident so I did not think about any connection.
#85 fully agree with you. Just had tonight with a South African colleague a discussion about this topic and she said that because of the ongoing political and social issues in so many African countries, even modern writers probably never think to write anything else, other than to address the ongoing problems.
>86 patito-de-hule: Response to question with possible spoilers
I DID relate it to that event, though I didn't spend much time thinking about the similarities. Now that you mention that scene, I have to think about what it was there for. Was it to help Westerners better connect to the horrors in Africa? Was it to contrast the fact that 4 girls dying in America is "as tragic" as hundreds dying in Biafra (the idea that many Africans have to die to get the same coverage of one white person was made a few times in the book). Given that Edna's story began before all the deaths in Half of a Yellow Sun started, perhaps it was meant as a harbinger? I don't know. It probably was a bit of all of those things.
I have some discussion questions too, but I'll wait a little longer since my questions are more than "possible spoilers." :) I am quite certain they ARE spoilers.
Another historical incident was the mention of Churchill's death in January, 1965. Note that it comes pretty close to the end of the second "Early Sixties" part. I didn't think Edna's story was really a "spoiler" since it is quite tangential to the plot. Partly I just wanted to look at how she works world events into her story to provide a realistic time frame. Besides the two incidents I mentioned, there were incidents in Kenya and Rhodesia in that time frame that she alludes to. They are part of the scaffolding on which the story is built.
I took notice of Churchill's death as well, but again I did not make/see the connection to the scaffolding of the story - I just sort of took it in and registered it with "some" interest, and thought - "Oh, I did not realize Churchchill was still around at that time" - for some reason I thought he had died already much earlier.
Patito-de-hule, I take it you have some expertise in Africa. Can you comment on the role that twinship plays in this novel?
The Igbos are largely Catholic; other Rivers tribes are largely Protestant, especially Anglican. The Hausas and Fulani are mostly Muslim. The Yoruba are both Muslim and Christian. They all have some vestiges of the native religion in their culture. Debo Kotun's Abiku and Ben Okri's The Famished Road are built around this and if I remember right, Okri's novel has some mention of twins.
The Hausas generally regard twins as a good omen and the Igbos as a bad omen. Years ago it was common to abandon a second twin. The Yorubas consider the first twin special and the second special, but less so. The only twins I ever knew were Yoruba, and that is natural since I lived in Lagos almost the whole time I was there. One of them explained to me what his name meant and that the first twin would have one name and the second another name that had something to do with religion.
I was watching, and didn't see anything in the book that reminded me of twins.
Again - I googled and found this interesting essay on the topic.
Twins: A Compelling Narrative Device in Two Igbo Novels
BTW, I read Things Fall Apart earlier this year and in that book, twins are exposed at birth. Very hard on the mothers. One of the appeals of Christianity to Igbo people, was that they didn't believe in this practice. Maybe that's why Olanna is committed to Christianity?
# 86 -- I thought that the reference to the Birmingham Church bombing fit in naturally here. It seems from this book, and also from other reading I have done on Africa, that Africans during the 60's were really aware fo what was going on in the US Civil Rights movement.
Like a fœtus, formless as the white of an egg, fluid, cream-colored like sperm, yes, intestinefuls of a future breath -- perhaps a child, perhaps a miscarriage. Like an unboned fœtus caught in the membranes of maternity. . .
It's an interesting metaphor for what Adichie is writing, though I wasn't particularly impressed with that particular novel. I'm looking forward to reading his Past Imperfect Trilogy. I like the symbolism in that name: imperfect, besides its usual meaning in English, is an aspect in some languages (e.g. Arabic, Russian, Spanish, and Somali) that implies continuing action. An action that "was going on" and perhaps still is. So the formation of a Somali government is Past Imperfect.
From time to time while I was reading Half of a Yellow Sun, Cheryl, my wife, would ask me why I was chuckling. It was always some pathetic little thing. Like when the German mercenary spoke of the "bloody kaffirs" in the Congo. Just an incident, but it was unexpectedly vulgar and reminded me of a use of the word while I was in Lagos. Kaffir is Arabic for infidel, or more broadly one who is unconscionably ignorant. But in sub-sahara Africa, the whites called the blacks by the derogatory term kaffir. It means no more nor less than the American "nigger." So while I was in Lagos, a Russian ship docked in the harbor and gave the sailors weekend shore passes. They were rude and crude, as sailors on shore leave will be, and I heard several persons refer to them as "white kaffirs." Except two of my Nigerian friends called them "white niggers." That story does as much as I can to explain what the German mercenary had said to Richard.
Another thing that made me chuckle was the memory of kwashiorkor. When I was in the hospital to get my gall bladder ripped out, they put me on a clear liquid diet for eight days. I did a lot of whining about that, and when my roommate was put on the same diet, I said, "Uh-oh, Marty, you're in trouble now; nosocomial kwashiorkor is endemic around here." His doctor laughed heartily and was still giggling when he left the room. The nurse asked me where I'd learned those words, and I told her I saw plenty of that when I was in Nigeria during the civil war. She said "I'll bet you did.
A lot of incidents reminded me of the American civil war because I've been reading a lot of social history of that war and of Reconstruction. War is Hell, but Civil War is a special Hell of its own. And Adichie has transmitted that message well.
Drachenbraut, thanks for the article.
In the afterword, Adichie mentions that she modeled Okeoma after Chris Okigbo. I didn't see it, personally, and Okigbo died very early in the Biafran war at age 37. He had quit writing poetry for several years, and what I read was his most recent poetry while I was in Nigeria in 1968-69.
As an initial verdict: beautiful, loved it very much. I really hate wars though, but I have to say wars do often give rise to very impressive novels...
Does that count as a 0th Thingaversery?
Ok! This thread is Open to SPOILERS! If you haven't finished the book, look below this message at your own risk. :)
I don't know what the rest of you think, but she was getting downright personal when she changed from the book The World Was Silent when We Died to the poem Were You Silent when We Died
I appreciated that, in this book, the focus was often on the effects of war on children and on women. Perhaps because Adichie is a woman.
# 104-- I hope she is not working on a sequel. I hated Kainene's death, but it seemed needed for the integrity of the novel.
And I really can't imagine a sequel with Kainene coming back; I feel like she should stay lost, that that's more fitting for the book.
I really liked the fact that Ugwu did get drafted in the end; it made the war come a lot closer, made it a lot more real, for me at least. In a way, Kainene, Olanna, Richard and Odenigbo were always on the sidelines. And I think her descriptions of Ugwu's experiences show very well what being a soldier can do to somebody, and how being involved in a war can make good people do horrible things, even if they don't really want to. It's been something that's been on my mind lately, so I was pleased to find it in Adichie's book.
And, being a total 'ignoramus' in African history, I also enjoyed getting to know a bit more about the situation in Nigeria. Reading books like this always make me feel a bit ashamed of being a caucasian European; to think about what an incredible amount of suffering we have caused in the world, and how our actions still have their effects, even today, makes me feel somewhat guilty, even if it's not really my fault. I think we Europeans did a pretty good job at completely messing up this planet :/
If it wasn't the Europeans, it would have eventually been someone else. Probably the Asians, I suppose.
I agree that Ugwu needed to be drafted in order to feel the full tragedy of the war. One of the questions I've been sitting on is: Do you think Ugwu WANTED to be drafted? He didn't really seem all that disappointed, in the end...and he kept wandering around on the streets even though he knew the danger.
The second question I've been sitting on was sort of mentioned by p-d-h (#106): What did you think when the perceived author of the book was suddenly changed? When Richard said it wasn't his book to write, did you agree?
As for Kainene's death, I also think it was necessary for one of the main characters to die. I didn't really believe it would be Ugwu, so I wasn't surprised when he was found. And as Britt said, the fact that the strongest character disappeared resonates more. Anybody and everybody can be a victim of war. I think it resonated even more deeply because we never found out what happened to her. She was just...gone. That probably happens SO much in war, but we don't like thinking about never knowing, do we?
My great grandmother (who lifed until I was 28) used to talk about "regulators." Only after she died did I understand she meant the KKK. She was a child in Washington County, AR and her father had joined the Union Cavalry. Her grandfather, like Ugwu, was conscripted by the Confederates. He "hid in the barn," but the soldiers found him. They never saw him again. My great grandfather, from Texas, joined the Confederate Infantry and came home with a crushed foot. As I said in an earlier post, War is Hell, and Civil War is a special Hell of its own.
It hit home with me when a character, I think it was Ms. Adebayo, said that in Lagos they didn't even know what was going on. Life went on pretty normally for people in Lagos. There were reports of the blockade around Umuahia the entire time I was there, and of the starvation there. From time to time Igbos made it into a hospital in Lagos that was across the street from where I was working. The "One Nigeria" that was mentioned once in the novel was a slogan one heard constantly.
The Brits were proud of Nigeria; until the Igbo coup (the first coup) it was the most thriving of their former African colonies. From the second coup, which installed Yakubu "Jack" Gowon and the massacre of the Igbo's everything collapsed. I was never able to travel further north than Ikeja, nor further east than Gilli-Gilli. My houseboy was Igbo, but most of my friends were Yoruba or refugees from Rivers State.
The poem "Were You Silent when We Died?" kind of hit home too because I was.
In 6th grade (I think it would have been 1969), I had to write a report about Nigeria for school; I had to write the Nigerian Embassy for information. They sent a huge packet, including a cookbook which I was quite intrigued by. Now I wish I still had that report! Anyway, as I recall, I addressed the Biafran issue briefly, and noted that, while Nigeria wasn't too nice to Biafra, the US government wouldn't probably be very nice either, if 1/3 of the country decided to secede.
I recall, because I always felt a bit guilty about that sentence, as if I hadn't been fair to the suffering of the Biafrans. It's funny the things we remember.
Today it seems like the world is rife with genocide: it's almost impossible to keep up and to acknowledge all those who have died. I don't know what the answer is, but I appreciate that Adichie brought us this story, as it seems like it is really only possible to comprehend suffering one person at a time.
I have to admit that for me, wars are a pretty far-off kind of thing. The last war in this country was the second world war, and since Holland surrendered very quickly there was little fighting here; so I have little personal connections with actual wars... (luckily, I might add, and hoping to keep it that way)
I think in many ways it is hard to care about everything that is going on all over the world. Though this means we are closing our eyes and remaining silent, I feel like it is inevitable. There is so little one can actually do for people that are suffering in wars, so little difference one can make... And I have to admit, I read newspapers and try to follow the international news, but sometimes it gets a bit too much for me, like banjo says, the world seems rife with genocide and sorts of cruelty, sometimes I just don't want to know and just want to forget about it all, because it makes me said.
But I do also think that books like this are important, to make us aware of the things that happened and to help us to comprehend the suffering in these situations. Maybe if we become wiser, we might one day be wise enough to stop fighting wars...
On the change of voice at the end of the story: I do feel like Ugwu's closeness to the actual fighting gives him some sort of extra authority. However, at the same time, I don't think the fact that Ugwu experienced the actual fighting makes the experiences of others unimportant, and I don't feel like it isn't Richard's story to write. War is different for everybody, everybody has their own personal experience and only the combination of several stories can really tell the complete story. I think Adichie shows this very well in her book by using the different characters, and I feel Richard is wrong in feeling like his experiences don't matter. That being said, I do like the fact that Ugwu starts writing about his experiences, it sort of fits with the story.
Oh, and I do feel that on some level he probably wanted to get drafted; I mean, in a way people looked down upon young men that refused to fight, and I think children and adolescents often also view war as something 'exciting' and adventurous. So yes, I think Ugwu did have some desire to actually be part of it all...
Ok, will stop writing now...
I was going to ask Patito de Hule if you could recommend anything to read on the American Civil war--I haven't done as much reading on that subject as I ought to.
Being European, I never heard anything about the American Civil War. Like, I know it happened, but until I went to study in the USA some years back I really knew nothing at all of American History, didn't even know who was fighting who in the civil war, so please excuse my ignorance :/
I'm afraid I'm generally not much of a historian. I had one year of history lessons in high school, which was only 20th century European history. I've been trying to do some reading on history lately to get a bit more at home in the field, but that's going to take time, and living in Europe, I started with European history. I do really want to know more about American history as well. And African history for that matter. So much to learn.... :/
I remember when I was younger, and read about Nigeria, I was struck with parallels to the US. Partly the civil war, I am sure, but I thought also partly the attitude towards entrepreneurialism. Reading about it today, I am also struck by the issues of both being multi-ethnic states AND former parts of the British Empire.
It was interesting how all of our Biafran characters were sure they would eventually win, even though things seemed very bleak to the reader. Do you think it was really like that?
So, I guess if you combine government propaganda with wishful thinking, there's a very strong inclinition to keep saying you'll win the war. I'm not sure how much of it is actually being sure and how much is fooling yourself. Like, Olanna seems to have doubts about the war, but then when other people are cheering and singing she gets drawn in by them.
The reason I recommend it is that it has very balanced coverage and covers most of the nineteenth century with increasing emphasis as you get closer to 1861. It covers the social and political aspects of the lead up to the war. That part is about 150 pages. Part II is the Civil War and takes up about 380 pages. It deals with the major battles and actors in the war, but also includes much of the politics and social conditions (which is what I'm interested in). Part III is the aftermath of the war, Reconstruction. This part is 130 pages. The final, brief chapter is "The New South," touches on the South after the failure of Reconstruction. Many consider to have ended with the inauguration of President Hayes on March 5, 1877. The coverage is mainstream all the way and very balanced coverage. It covers considerably more than just the war, but the buildup and aftermath as well. I cannot recommend any better coverage for a person interested in all aspects of the history of that event.
I myself am interested in the unbalanced coverage like Jefferson Davis's The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1880) as well as various memoirs that cover the social aspects. If your interests are along those lines, I suggest following a forum or a thread about the Civil War and asking questions.
As to the effects of the Civil War on the two sections, it is significant that just as the Nigerians blockaded Biafra, the Union effectively blockaded the South. And the blockades were very effective, though somewhat porous. Florida, with the longest coast, was virtually out of the war but suffered badly from the blockade. Another parallel is that the British never recognized Biafra or the Confederacy. Biafra had most of the oil in Nigera, the reason the Nigerians were so determined not to allow the secession. They were very dependent on exports of oil to support their cause. The South was very dependent on cotton exports and truly believed that the rest of the world couldn't get along without their exports. We still hear of "cotton diplomacy" just as we hear of the (now) more important oil diplomacy. Few battles extended into the Northern states. Pennsylvania most notably, but some fighting in Maryland and Kentucky as well. Just as the Igbos made some forays across the Niger from Biafra, but nothing significant. For the North, the biggest losses were economic. Oil was discovered in Pennsylvania and Ohio in 1859, and the industry was depressed from 1861 to 1865. Travel down the Mississippi, vital to the Midwest, was restored early in the war (after Vicksburg) but was still fraught with inconveniences. In both the North and South the Waste of economic resources was phenomenal just as in Nigeria from 1967-1970.
Adichie was Igbo, and the war is described from an Igbo POV, of course. Indeed the Igbos suffered terribly--they lost the war. But as you should expect, there was another side to it as well.
Thanks! Interesting thoughts about the American civil war. I will put McPherson's book on my list--I am afraid it's a long one and I probably won't get to it until 2013. The social and political aspects of the war are what really interest me--I am afraid my brain freezes over whenever I try to understand battle strategy.
It would be interesting to look at the war from a non-Igbo pint of view. I think most of the Nigerian writers I am familiar with are Igbo, actually.
But I recommend Ben Okri's The Famished Road
Our kind of people by Uzodinma Iweala is reviewed on a blog (Amy Reads) I read, as well as by the Guardian.
Daughters who walk this path by Yejide Kilanko will be published next year in the US & UK and is also reviewed on Amy's Reads.
Unfortunately, the writing in Destination Biafra is pretty clunky. I am not sure if JOM was better, or if I am more discerning now.
This was interesting to read after having read Half a Yellow Sun. Emecheta spends more time explaining how the British attempts to manipulate their former colony contributed to the bloodbath that was Biafra. Also another perspective on women and war, which was interesting.
I have a couple more Nigerian books on tap--Nigeria is a category in my 12 in 12 category, and I intend to read 6-7 books. I was planning next to look at Wole Soyinka. I may also try The Famished Road, but probably that will be for next year.
When I read the book I was not particular reminded of the American Civil War, but of how terrible any Civil War is. As Britt mentioned before, what I think is so terrible is that these wars are caused by ethnic, religous and various other reasons and the end result is, that people from the same country fight each other.
One of my friend ist from the former Yugoslavia and I remember, her telling me, how traumatized so many of her friends and family were. This was a war the people did not want, but the government forced.
I also had some further discussions with some of my Nigerian collegues - and BTW I noticed they are all Yoruba - and they all felt that if it would not have been for the meddling of the British and the oil - Biafra would have been Biafra. They all felt that Nigeria is so big, that it would not have mattered to leave Biafra be.
#106 patito - what did you mean by Kainene becoming personal after the poem?
However, how did you feel about the relationship between Richard and Kainene? I got quite often the impression that Richard was not quite sure what he wanted and what Kainene ment to him. Sometimes, I even felt that he sort of viewed her like a treasured trophy. Anyone else, some thoughts on this?
As I mentioned before, Kainene was my favourite character. Olanna sometimes just annoyed me. Kainene was the cool cynic, who led her father's business. And yes, she may did not say thank you to the servants, but she always treated them well. I don't think that she would have punished the servant (who took the rice bag) as such as Olanna and her mother did.
What I loved about her was her hidden compassion, which came out during the war, when she did everything to support the people - making no distinction to which ethnic group they belonged to, as everyone who choose to be in Biafra was Biafran in her eyes.
I don't know what the rest of you think, but she was getting downright personal when she changed from the book The World Was Silent when We Died to the poem Were You Silent when We Died
"she changed" should be "Adichie changed." It felt personal because I was in Lagos at the time and only thought about the Yoruba side of events. "One Nigeria" was a slogan at the time just as "perpetual union" was a slogan in the north during the American Civil War.