Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of three characters whose lives are connected. Ugwu is a thirteen year old boy who leaves his village to become a house-boy for a university professor. He realises his life is not like the life of other house-boys. They do not sleep in a spare room within the homes of their Masters, nor are they encouraged to read books the way that Ugwu is. Ugwu is eager to please and proves himself constantly to be a valuable asset to his Master's household.
Olanna is the professor's mistress. She and her twin sister have led priveleged lives in Lagos, due to their father's status. She gives up that life in order to live a more exciting life with her "revolutionary lover" as her sister often describes the professor.
Then there is Richard, Unlike the rest of the characters within the pages, Richard is a white man who is eager to make his life in Africa. He is obesessed with Olanna's twin sister, who is very different from Olanna, as she is a very strong, fearless, and independent woman.
Their lives change when war breaks out - the book re-creates the struggle of the 1960's between Nigeria and Biafra - and as igbo speaking people, they find themselves fighting for the right to live.
I don't know where to start with this book. I fell in love with it in a way that is rare for me. The characters are each filled with such energy and very distinctive, and I think what surprised me the most with the characters, is that even those who make a brief appearance were wonderfully defined. The detail of the war itself is phenomenal and often brutal. Chilling scenes are often described such as when Olanna is on a train on her way back home. Olanna is seated on the floor, urine spreading on the floor of the train and a lady asks her to come and take a look at something. Olanna looks into the bowl that the woman is holding and there is a little girl's head with ashy-gray skin, braided hair, rolled-back eyes and open mouth. That's an image that will stay with me for a long time.
Raw emotion leaps from the pages in this novel and I often found myself biting my lip as I worried about the characters. Thanks to the brilliant detail, each of them is so easy to feel attached to and I had to keep stopping myself from skipping ahead to reassure myself that they were all fine.
The glimpse of another culture was definitely what made this book something special for me though. I enjoyed learning about the foods, the language - there are words in igbo sprinkled throughout the pages -, the people, and the landscape. It was just an amazing novel. It says a lot that it's a little over 400 pages and I practically inhaled it in just over a day.
This one is a definite must read.
Author's website: http://www.halfofayellowsun.com/