Friday, November 03, 2006


third day

First, a confession: there weren't many ground rules to this book club. You read the book, you write about it on the third of the month, and you don't read anyone else's reviews or thoughts before you do. That's it.

You'd think I could have kept them, especially since I'm the one who made them up. But once I saw comments indicating some of the reviews were only a click away, I got so excited I forgot all about the rules. (And yes, I've been known to regularly eat dessert before dinner, too--especially if it's something chocolate.)

Now it looks as if I'm probably not going to get this up before the midnight deadline either. Oy.

I'd like to say your views didn't influence me, but they did. I even understand the reservations some of you expressed, though I still think this was one fine book.

Half of a Yellow Sun, though it shed light on history, was above all a story, deftly plotted with enough plot twists and suspense to keep the pages turning effortlessly. I could almost taste Ugwu's pepper soup, and smell the scent of Baby's skin when she emerged from the bath.

I believed in Richard's almost desparate love for the remote Kainene and for the Biafran people; I was seared by his lingering sense of himself as an outsider, both in his native country and his adopted land. In the early parts of the novel when both Olanna were captivated by Ogdenigbo's fiery idealism and charisma, so was I. I also shared Olanna's disaffection when her "revolutionary" crumbled as his ideals were tested.

I particularly loved Ugwu, who we first meet as a naive village boy, dazzled by his new master's refrigerator full of food, eager for knowledge, self-improvement and life. Though he recovers from the physical wound he sustains in the war, Ugwu has travelled far from that eager boy by the end of the novel. His altered spirit bespoke the horrors of war as much as the swollen bellies of the children or the slaughtered villagers Olanna finds when she attempts to visit her aunt and uncle.

There was not a character in the novel who wasn't flawed in some way, which added to their humanity. We come to care about them, not because they are mythological heroes, but because they make mistakes, sometimes tragic ones, but Adichie never seems to judge them. Nor do they, in the end, judge one another.

A story that concerns itself with the most depraved human conduct imaginable might be unremittingly dark, but the mercy, generosity, and compassion that the characters show one another were for me, the true yellow sun in the novel.

As a writer, thinking about Half of a Yellow Sun made me consider what elements comprise a great book. A compulsively readable plot and fully developed characters are essential; but many novels that quickly fade from memory possess those.

What makes this one exceptional for me was that it made me think more deeply about what it means to be human. In the end, no one is spared the horrors of war in this novel. Not the ravaged land where it takes place, and not a single one of the characters we've come to know is left unchanged. And yet, the final image is of Olanna and Ogdenigbo holding one another. Holding one another and going on.

A huge thank you to all who shared the reading of this book with me. Whenever I finish a book, I always want to talk about it. I want to tell someone why I loved it or why I felt like throwing it at the wall. I can't tell you how much fun it was to wander from link to link today and do exactly that.

Others who have reviews up:

Gerry Rosser
Tinker(Includes an illustration of Ugwu!)
Sustenance Scout
Left-Handed Trees

As others share their musings, let me know so I can add you to the list! And if anyone would like to host next month's book club, when we will be reading Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone, I'm looking for a volunteer.

Dennis Lehane has said that Woodrell is the least appreciated great writer in America; and an impressive list of writers from Kaye Gibbons to Thomas McGuane concur. Next month the Third Day Book Club will decide whether they're right!

As for my distinguished career as an artist, I almost hung it up when my family mistook my chili peppers for strawberries. But then I saw my daughter working on her own art project as she talked on the phone. Her smile persuaded me to continue to subject you to my least for a few more days.



Laini Taylor said...

Arg - blogger won't let me put up my post about the book! Hopefully tomorrow I can get that up. I never used to have any problems with blogger and always wondered what people were complaining about. Lately it's been my turn. :-(

I also particularly loved Ugwu and the scenes showing his early days in his master's house. I read on the book's website that this character is based on two real people: Adichie's parents' real houseboy during the war, who her mother said she could never have managed without, and the houseboy Adichie grew up with. I like to think of Ugwu as a real person! I also love that she chose to turn Ugwu into the story "carrier" by the end of the book, taking that job out of Richard's hands. A statement, Adichie says, on who she thinks SHOULD be telling Africa's stories. I happen to think Richard had just as much right to tell the story -- his own story -- but I get her point. Thanks for putting this in motion, Patry. I loved the book!

Patry Francis said...

laini: Damn blogger! I want to read that review! And so interesting about Ugwu being based on someone real. No wonder he felt so alive and wonderful.
And yes, I loved that he carried the story forward, too--though sometimes I felt Richard was treated rather unfairly in the novel.

Anonymous said...

I like your chili peppers, Patry! I recognized them immediately - and as both the Third Day logo AND a symbol of Ugwu's pepper soup, they were the perfect element to add to the symbol of Half of a Yellow Sun. I like the border motif, too. Don't give up on art so easily! It's way too much fun and I think just about everyone can use more art and fun in their lives.

I'm not giving up on the book - merely postponing finishing it till I know I can have the luxury of brooding and crying about it. I know myself well enough now, to know when I'm approaching overload, and I'm juggling just one too many bowling balls right now - I can't afford to lose the momentum. Later, when work isn't being so intense and the NaNoWriMo is over, then maybe I can pick it back up again to finish.

It is beautifully written and does have a lot of food for thought about humanity - how ideologies, societal beliefs and traditions, all affect the individuals living in them. It's gotten me thinking about what it must be like - living through civil war - any war is hell, but I can't help thinking that a civil war would feel even more treacherous as people who were once your friends or business acquaintances were suddenly the enemy. Who could you really trust?

Thank you for introducing the book to me - I might never have picked it up otherwise, thinking it would be too depressing. While I feel it's too much for me to finish it right at this moment, I'm glad I've met these characters and heard their story thus far - and I look forward to reading the rest of their tale at the end of NaNoWriMo.

I was really interested to read Laini's comment that Ugwu's character is based on two real people in Adiche's life - and now I wonder what their fates turned out to be? His character captured me from the very first. Thanks for mentioning my quick character sketch of him.

Anonymous said...

I love your chili peppers.

Your daughter looks like your grandmother, too. In the forehead, I think.

Am I crazy to think so? Am I now seeing your grandmother everywhere?

Anonymous said...

Your chili peppers DO SO look like chili peppers!

Please keep up with making art this month. It calls upon a different aspect of creativity, and as a writer I find the act of making something visual enriches me. All of it is good, and I thank you for sharing. The purpose of AEM is to play, and everyone is allowed into that club. :)

Anonymous said...

This is why I never join book clubs. You've written such a lovely review...and honestly, as much as I love to lose myself in books, whenever someone asks me about a book, the best I can come up with is, "Um...I liked it?" I seem unable to articulate the journey any writer takes me on. So I've given up on trying to describe those journeys...and settled for simply allowing myself to be taken on them, no explanations required. All of that is just a long-winded way of saying that I enjoyed your took me on a little journey, even though I haven't read the book.

gerry rosser said...

Good review. Ugwu was my favorite character.

By the way, I spell my name "Gerry."
No harm done.

Have you done any brief blurbs on your own book? I ask this with an eye to ordering a copy.

Anonymous said...

Well I did blog about Half of a Yellow Sun, not a review but what it felt like to think about the book all month and NOT read it after all!

When you say that no one is left unchanged by war, I'm reminded of my father who was never the same after seeing the holocaust first hand. He was one of the soldiers who liberated Buchenwald, and seeing what went on there ruined him, but it also made his humanity even more endearing. I love stories that can pull off the contrast of the dark and light in humanity. I need to be reminded over and over that they exist togther.

My sister just mentioned Dennis Lehane on my blog. Some of my family members heard him at an event recently and have been passing his books around. Of course, we all love the fact that he's from Boston and his stories are set in places we all know well.

I Love your hand drawn peppers, Patry, and your forays into art inspire me!

Sustenance Scout said...

It was nice to see Odenigbo redeemed in the end, with that hug and by Ugwu's words. And you're right that the emotions and emotional ties of very real characters carried the entire story, Patry. You always get right to the heart of things, don't you?

rdl said...

Great review - made me want to read it of course. The next one also. heading to library. Cute pic of N.

Laini Taylor said...

I finally got my post up, Patry.

Laini Taylor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shannon Hopkins said...

I did it! And now I can finish reading other people's reviews. I read one, and then I read what you wrote about ground rules, and I thought, "YIKES! I forgot." But I really had written my "fragment paragraphs" well before the 3rd, so I wasn't too badly in violation. It was fun. Looking forward to the next one.

paris parfait said...

Love that book and your review is spot on! As for Winter's Bone, I bought that book in London in July, haven't read it yet, but am willing to host that book club. Let me know what you think.

robin andrea said...

Now that winter is here (at least up on the Olympic Peninsula) I might get some reading done. There is more darkness than light already. What better way to spend a winter's night than with the propane heater (faux fireplace) crackling away, and a good book?

I'll head out to the library to see if they have Lehane's book.

steve on the slow train said...

I just got my blog up--more historical than literary, and a tad too long-winded. But it's up. I agree that Ugwu is a very lovable character. His participation in a serial rape seems more a weakness--giving in to peer pressure--than a crime. Still, it's troubling. Incidentally, the Biafran capital, Enugu, is a contraction of enu Ugwu, meaning "top of the hill."

Sustenance Scout said...

Laini, for some reason Blogger (grrr) won't let me leave comments on your blog, so I figured I'd touch base over here at Patry's. I didn't think she'd mind. :) First of all, I can write books AND waggle my ears! How cool is that? Second, I loved your review (I've loved all of them so far; what a bunch of original minds you've gathered, Patry!) and agree it must be a tricky balancing act writers of war (and other) novels perform as they decide which beloved characters will suffer most while hoping not to dismay their readers. We Americans love our happy endings, don't we? We also prefer to pretend life is rosy everywhere as long as we're content. I'll never hear reports from refugee camps again without cringing now that I feel like I've witnessed (through this book) how awful such an existence can be.

Anonymous said...

what, everyone doesn't eat dessert before dinner?

Crockhead said...

Thanks, Patry, for starting the Third Day Book Club, for picking a good book to get us started and for a great review. I agree with your comment that what made this book great was that it caused us to think deeply about what it means to be human.

Patry Francis said...

tinker: Thanks for the encouraging words. You know, I hadn't thought connected the chili peppers to Ugwu's soup, but of course they are. The subconscious mind knows so much more than we do...Good luck with Nano. I'll be checking in to see how you're doing.

sara: I never noticed it, but I think you may be right about my daughter. The disappearing great-grandmother may have her own way to assert her identity even now.

kathryn: I've been having so much fun playing. Today we had a family party and I set up an art table so everyone could from seven to seventy could share in the experience of MakeArtEveryDay. More on that tomorrow...

Marilyn: You are so fluid with language; I absolutely do not believe you couldn't write a fabulous book review. But I know what you mean; sometimes I just want to sit and BE with a book.

gerry: Sorry about the name. I DO know how you spell it, but I've had a house full of company this weekend and have been forced to have my blogging fun in the middle of the night. Must have been half asleep.

colleen: I love that you wrote a review of thinking about the book!

k: I like that she gave us no neat or pat ending. The story continued after the book was closed--even though we could no longer peer through the windows and see how things turned out.

tarakuanyin: I think I was the only one in serious violation. I read about four reviews before putting up my own--which actually made the task harder because they were all so interesting.

r: You would love this book.

laini: yay! Now I only hope I can comment...

paris parfait: How wonderful that you had already chosen Winter's Bone on your own. Thank you for offering to host the next book club. That would be wonderful!

R.A.: The novel opens this way: "Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled flurries..." Sounds like perfect winter reading by the propane fire, doesn't it?

steve: I think we needed a historical perspective.

tammy: Ah, I'm sensing a kindred spirit here! Can I offer you a brownie?

amishlaw: Thank you, and everyone for making the first month of the book club so successful. I've loved seeing those of you who may not have connected in the past getting to know one another through Half of a Yellow Sun.

Time now 2:07 a.m. and the silence is feeling SO sweet I hate to go to bed and miss out on it. I also hate to go to bed without reading all the reviews I've missed. But we have a full family day tomorrow so I think I'm going to put up the links and wait until tomorrow to catch up.

Darlene said...

I must confess...I did not read your guys all have me jazzed about reading it now that I don't want to spoil anything.

Besides, I have some catching up to do, your book club sounds great! I'll be signing up soon!

xx darlene

Anil P said...

HAlf of a Yello Sun . . . hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

so glad you are continuing with your art efforts!

Patry Francis said...

darlene: I'm SO excited that you want to become a part of Third Day! And if you do read Yellow Sun, I would love to read/hear what you think of it any day of the month.

anil: Have you read it??

ascender: Encouragement from real artists means a lot! Thank you--

Anonymous said...

I've read all the book review posts, I think. I just love the variety of styles and perspectives they were done from!

Patry Francis said...

That was the best part for me--seeing all the variety in the reviews. Thanks for your enthusiasm, Colleen!

Anonymous said...

I finally got my review up on my site. It was so tempting to read what others had said before I wrote mine, but I avoided the temptation.

I also loved Ugwu - I think he was my favourite character, but I identified with Richard and his frustration that however long he lived in the country, he would never belong.

Anonymous said...

Despite the war, the characters are ALIVE. Is disaster what it takes to wake us from our comfortable reverie?