The novel takes place in Nigeria prior to and during the Nigerian Civil War (1967–70). The effect of the war is shown through the dynamic relationships of five people’s lives including twin daughters of an influential businessman, a professor, a British citizen, and a houseboy. After Biafra's declaration of secession, the lives of the main characters drastically changed and were torn apart by the brutality of the civil war and decisions in their personal lives.

The book jumps between events that took place during the early and late 1960s, when the war took place, and extends until the end of the war. In the early 1960s, the main characters are introduced: Ugwu, a 13-year-old village boy who moves in with Odenigbo, to work as his houseboy. Odenigbo frequently entertains intellectuals to discuss the political turmoil in Nigeria. Life changes for Ugwu when Odenigbo’s girlfriend, Olanna, moves in with them. Ugwu forms a strong bond with both of them, and is very loyal. Olanna has a twin sister, Kainene, a woman with a dry sense of humor, tired by the pompous company she runs for her father. Her lover Richard is an Englishman who has come to Nigeria to explore Igbo-Ukwu art.

Jumping four years ahead, trouble is brewing between the Hausa and the Igbo people and hundreds of people die in massacres, including Olanna's beloved auntie and uncle. A new republic, called Biafra, is created by the Igbo. As a result of the conflict, Olanna, Odenigbo, their infant daughter, whom they refer to only as "Baby", and Ugwu are forced to flee Nsukka, which is the university town and the major intellectual hub of the new nation. They finally endin the refugee town of Umuahia, where they suffer as a result of food shortages and the constant air raids and paranoid atmosphere. There are also allusions to a conflict between Olanna and Kainene, Richard and Kainene and Olanna and Odenigbo.

When the novel jumps back to the early 1960s, we learn that Odenigbo slept with a village girl, who then had his baby. Olanna is furious at his betrayal, and sleeps with Richard in a moment of liberation. She goes back to Odenigbo and when they later learn that Amala refused to keep her newborn daughter, Olanna decides that they would keep her.

Back during the war Olanna, Odenigbo, Baby, and Ugwu were living with Kainene and Richard where Kainene was running a refugee camp. The situation is hopeless as they have no food or medicine. Kainene decides to trade across enemy lines, but does not return, even after the end of the war a few weeks later. The book ends ambiguously, with the reader not knowing if Kainene live 


Ugwu – 
The novel starts and ends with Ugwu. He is a village boy from Opi who later becomes a servant in Odenigbo’s house. Under Odenigbo and Olanna’s guidance, Ugwu is able to continue his education and his literary skills progress throughout the novel.[2] He tries to maintain contact with his mother and sister, Anulika, back in his home village, and is constantly looking out for his mother’s health and wellbeing. His free time is often dominated by his love interests, which include Nnesinachi, Eberechi, and Chinyere. His life is violently interrupted when he is forcibly conscripted into the Biafrain Army. There, he witnesses and participates in gruesome battles and a rape.

Odenigbo – Odenigbo starts the novel as Professor of Mathematics at Nsukka University. His strong opinions result in some characters labeling him as a “revolutionary.” He favors socialism and tribalism to capitalism and Pan-Africanism or nationalism. After the war forces him to vacate his position at Nsukka University, Odenigbo becomes active in the war cause under Manpower Directorate . His personal life is dominated by his relationship and later marriage to Olanna. He is the father of Baby, though Amala, not Olanna, is Baby’s mother. Odenigbo also has a strong, albeit turbulent, relationship with his mother. “Mama” affects his relationship with Olanna, and Mama’s death starts Odenigbo on a dark path of alcoholism and depression.

Olanna – Olanna is one of three characters through which the novel is told (the others being Ugwu and Richard). She is the daughter of Chief Ozobia and twin of Kainene. Olanna was raised in Nigeria, and later attended university in the United Kingdom. She is described as “illogically beautiful,” and her appearance often dictates how others treat her. For example, her parents try to offer sex with her as a bribe to help secure business deals. Consequently, her connection with her parents is weak and she gravitates towards her Aunt Ifeka and Uncle Mbaezi in Kano. Mohammed is her ex-boyfriend and Odenigbo is her husband, and she is the adopted mother of Baby. Professionally, she is a Professor of Sociology at Nsukka University before the war begins. She later works as a school teacher in Umuahia and finally helps her sister care for refugees in Orlu
Kainene – Kainene, Olanna’s twin, seems to be at first very different from Olanna. She is the type of strong-headed woman, independent, cold, very calculated. Kainene lives in Port Harcourt where she runs her father’s business. Her father, very proud of her, tells one of his friends that she is “not just like a son, she is like two.” In the beginning of the war, she is a war profiteer. However, after she witnesses the war’s cruelty, she changes completely as a character and instead of running her father’s business, she runs a refugee camp. She remains fearless and in the end decides to trade with the enemy, putting her life at risk.

Richard Churchill – Richard is an English writer who comes to Nigeria to explore Igbo-Ukwu art. At first he associates with other expats, especially Susan who becomes his girlfriend. However, once he meets Kainene at one of the parties Susan drags him to, he becomes fascinated with her. Richard moves to Nsukka where he teaches at the Nsukka University and attempts to write a book about the Igbo-Ukwu art. Olanna invites him to be part of Odenigbo’s circle of intellectuals. Richard is glad to witness Biafra’s birth, thinking it would actually make him Biafran. He starts writing a book about the war, but soon realizes that it is not his story to tell. Adichie has said in an interview that the idea of Richard came from Frederick Forsyth, a staunch supporter of Biafra: “Richard isn’t at all like him, of course, but just the sense of an Englishman who became more Biafran than Biafrans themselves, was really an idea that came from him, Forsyth.” 


Theme of Colonialism:Half of a Yellow Sun mostly deals with the Nigerian Civil War (also called the Biafran War), which took place between 1967 and 1970. Nigeria had only recently freed itself from British colonial rule at the time, and the country of Nigeria was itself an arbitrary unification (by its colonizers) of over 300 different ethnic groups. The largest of these were the Igbo in the Southeast, the Yoruba in the Southwest, and the Hausa in the North. Adichie paints a picture of this hopeful young country in its new independence through scenes at Odenigbo’s house, where politicians, professors, and poets argue and laugh together. But despite Independence in 1960, Nigerian politics were still under British influence (which wanted to maintain its access to Nigerian resources), mostly through the way the government was arranged – so that the autocratic Northern Hausa had the most control. Ultimately the tensions between the ethnic groups (exacerbated and sometimes even created by England) led to the massacres of Igbo people in 1966 and the Civil War that followed, with the secession of the Republic of Biafra in the Southeast.

Half of a Yellow Sun is told from the point of view of mostly Igbo characters – Ugwu, Odenigbo, Olanna, and Kainene – who are all affected by the massacres and the war, and hold a desperate hope in the future of Biafra. Adichie also gives us the viewpoint of an outsider, the white Englishman Richard, who though he belongs to the colonizers comes to identify closely with the Biafran cause through his love of Kainene (and yet, at the same time, can never actually be Biafran or completely extricate himself from the colonialist context or to separate his own objectification of Biafrans from his love of Kailene. Ultimately none of the political sides come out blameless in the conflict, just like the characters in the novel. England started all the trouble by colonizing and oppressing Nigeria, stirring up ethnic tensions, and supplying arms to Nigeria during the war; Nigeria used starvation and genocide as weapons of war, and the Biafran soldiers committed their own atrocities against the Nigerians and even their own people. The power of the novel is then to show human faces of different aspects of this conflict, and to portray individual tragedies and victories that bring to life events most Westerners aren’t even aware of.

Theme of violence:Most of the novel centers around the Nigerian Civil War, and the excessive cruelty and violence of this conflict affects all of the characters. This war was sparked by the massacres of Igbo people in 1966, when angry mobs killed soldiers and citizens as “retribution” for a government coup. The creation of Biafra was then a time of hope for the battered Igbo, but this was quickly tempered by the declaration of war from Nigeria. In Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie contrasts scenes of peace and optimism (like the dinner parties at Odenigbo’s house) with sudden scenes of violence and fear. In this way she creates a tone of constant suspense, as the country becomes a place of danger and casual violence.

Anywhere from one to three million people died of starvation and fighting during the Biafran War, and Adichie draws out the personal tragedies in these astronomical numbers. She shows small horrors like a woman carrying her daughter’s severed head in a basket, the girl’s hair still carefully braided, or Ikejide having his head cut off by a piece of shrapnel. There are other tragedies as well, like the poet Okeoma giving up writing in order to fight, or Ugwu contributing to the horrors of war by participating in the rape of a bar girl. War and violence is often overwhelming in both the world and in the novel, and sometimes the only redemption seems to be trying to avoid history’s mistakes by fully confronting them, as we do in Adichie’s merciless writing.

Theme of cultural conflict:Much of the conflict in Nigerian politics and between the characters of the novel has to do with race and culture. The root cause of this is the racist, oppressive colonization of Nigeria by the British Empire. This is illustrated in characters like Susan, who sees all Africans as less-civilized and inferior to white people. Colonialism also exacerbated cultural conflicts among the Nigerians themselves, as the country’s borders are a “unified” region created by England, forcing together over 300 different cultural groups. The main tension is between the Muslim, autocratic Hausa and the mostly-Christian, republican Igbo. The British colonizers gave most of the government control to the Hausa, as they were easier for the British to influence from afar, but the Igbo and the Yoruba developed the strongest middle class.

Adichie’s characters then represent many of these different cultures and races. Olanna and Kainene are upper-class Igbo, Odenigbo is a middle-class, intellectual Igbo, Ugwu is an extremely poor Igbo from a bush village, and Richard is a white English expatriate. Adichie is from an Igbo family herself, so she clearly identifies more with the Biafran cause, but she doesn’t shy away from portraying the mistakes and atrocities committed by Biafra. Overall her portrayal of the conflicts between race and culture shows the common humanity of all, and how even someone like Richard – a member of the oppressive culture – can be a force for good when he is willing to recognize the equal value of all people and try to help them.

Theme of love:Half of a Yellow Sun deals with political and historical events but it is also deeply personal, particularly in the love between its characters. The romantic relationships between Olanna and Odenigbo, Kainene and Richard, and Ugwu’s infatuation with Eberechi are at the center of the novel, as well as the sibling love between Olanna and Kainene. As with everything in the book, the personal is affected by the political and vice versa: Olanna’s love for Odenigbo brings her into his world of radical politics, and Richard’s love for Kainene causes him to cross racial and political boundaries.

The love between the sisters becomes a sort of symbol for the unity of Nigeria, as they painfully cut off ties but are eventually reunited. Ugwu’s longings for Nnesinachi and Eberechi are thwarted by the war, and then as a soldier he commits the atrocity of rape – the ultimate corruption of love. The love between Kainene and Richard and the love between the sisters seems the most enduring of the book, which makes it all the more tragic when Kainene disappears. Ultimately Adichie delves into all the deep aspects of the human experience: sex as well as violence, romance as well as cruelty, and though she shows great injustice and pain she also portrays love that can withstand such suffering.

No comments