Friday, November 03, 2006
THIRD DAY BLOGS HALF OF A YELLOW SUN
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:
Tinker(Includes an illustration of Ugwu!)
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 efforts...at least for a few more days.