Welcome to the Women for Women International Book Club! This month we’re reading Half of a Yellow Sun by award-winning writer and feminist champion, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
This the landmark novel shines a light on the largely unknown history of Biafra, a secessionist state that separated from Nigeria in the 60s, the Igbo people, and the Nigerian Civil War. A tale of love, family, betrayal, and forgiveness—amid horrific brutality— Half of a Yellow Sun (a reference to the Biafran flag) provides a deeper understanding of the history and cultural context that continues to impact Nigeria today.
A gifted storyteller, Adichie masterfully brings the moment in history to life through the experiences of her complex and captivating central characters. Of particular interest is the metamorphosis of Olanna, an upper-class, educated woman who, stripped of her status as war destroys Biafra’s social structure, reconnects with her community through service. In becoming a leader with an active role, she represents the progression in female status during this turbulent time in Nigeria.
Don’t forget to join the #WFWIBookClub Facebook Group. We’ve launched a space for passionate readers like you to dive deeper and connect with each other while exploring women’s power. We hope you’ll join the discussion online!
Why This Book is Important
Half of a Yellow Sun exposes the atrocities of war and its traumatic effects on a desperate and hopeful population during an almost forgotten—yet incredibly important—moment in modern African history.
A truly enlightening read, not only does this novel shine a light on the shocking consequences of this deadly struggle for control, but it also teaches about the intricacies of Nigerian life and its tumultuous past: in terms of politics, racism, British oppression and exploitation, struggles with unification after colonial rule, and the country’s diverse culture and class division.
Half of a Yellow Sun also examines the changing roles of women in Nigerian society. We see the Igbo women making a mark in African history as they become active participants in both politics and war, adapting as necessary to survive … and to keep the next generation alive.
While progress has been made, many Nigerian women continue to lack economic opportunities and equality—battling limited access to health services and education, patriarchal oppression, and violence. We are proud to work with the women of Nigeria through our Stronger Women, Stronger Nations program. With the help of our Nigerian-led team, women are harnessing the tools and opportunities they need to grow and create lasting social change.
Trigger Warning for Half of a Yellow Sun: Graphic violence, terrorism, sexual assault
Check out the discussion questions below and connect with readers on Instagram to share your reactions, thoughts, and questions by using the hashtag #WFWIBookClub, and tagging us with @womenforwomen. We want to hear what you think—share your take on the book with us!
Ugwu is only 13 when he begins working as a houseboy for Odenigbo, but he is one of the most intelligent and observant characters in the novel. How well does Ugwu manage the transition from village life to the intellectual and privileged world of his employers? How does his presence throughout affect the reader’s experience of the story?
Discuss the ways in which Adichie reveals the differences in social class among her characters. What are the different cultural assumptions—about themselves and others—made by educated Africans like Odenigbo, nouveau riche Africans like Olanna’s parents, uneducated Africans like Odenigbo’s mother, and British expatriates like Richard’s ex-girlfriend Susan?
Susan Grenville-Pitts is a stereotype of the colonial occupier with her assertion that “It’s quite extraordinary how these people can’t control their hatred of each other.... Civilization teaches you control” [p. 194]. Richard, on the other hand, wants to be African, learns to speak Igbo, and says “we” when he speaks of Biafra. What sort of person is Richard? How do you explain his desires?
The poet Okeoma, in praise of the new Biafra, wrote, “If the sun refuses to rise, we will make it rise” [p. 219]. Does Adichie seem to represent the Biafran secession as a doomed exercise in political naivete — or as a desperate bid for survival on the part of a besieged ethnic group? Given the history of Nigeria and Britain’s support during the war, is the defeat of Biafra a foregone conclusion?
Adichie makes a point of displaying Olanna’s middle-class frame of mind: she is disgusted at the cockroach eggs in her cousins’ house, reluctant to let Baby mix with village children because they have lice, and so on. How is her privileged outlook changed by the war?
How does being witnesses to violent death change people in the story—Olanna, Kainene, Odenigbo, Ugwu? How does Adichie handle descriptions of scenes of violence, death, and famine?
The novel is structured in part around two love stories, between Olanna and Odenigbo and between Kainene and Richard. It is “really a story of love,” Adichie has said (Financial Times, September 9, 2006). How does Adichie handle romantic and sexual love? Why are these love plots so important to a novel about a war?
Questions issued by publisher.