Almost twelve years ago I read, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and remember thinking, "I don't really get it, but I like it." I think now it was because it was such a different story, and that there was something being communicated that was bigger than me, that I couldn't quiet articulate but knew was there. Like the smell of a coming rain.
Half of a Yellow Sun is a similar sort of story. It is beautiful and raw and unapologetic. It's Africa. It's Adichie. It's Kainene. And I absolutely loved it. And yet, I'm not fully sure why. Which is the best kind of art.
Here are two thoughts I'm wresting with:
"The truth is that most of the time when writers deal with sex, they avoid writing about the act itself. There are a lot of scenes that jump from the first button being undone to a postcoital cigarette (metaphorically, that is) or that cut from the unbuttoning to another scene entirely. The further truth is that even when they write about sex, they're really writing about something else" (Foster).
Adichie's scenes don't exactly cut from one to another entirely, but she is definitely talking about something else. Betrayal. Loyalty. Longings (not physical). Identity. Revenge. Belonging. Wonder. And a myriad of other things.
"When they're writing about other things, they really mean sex, and when they're writing about sex, they really mean something else. If they write about sex and mean strictly sex, we have a word for that. Pornography" (Foster).
Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun is far from pornography. It's so much more, because sex can be "pleasure, sacrifice, submission, rebelion, resignation, supplication, domination, enlightenment, the whole works" (How to Read Lit Like a Professor, Foster).
On Richard Churchill:
There are many powerful and beautiful characters living in Half A Yellow Sun, all of which are fully dynamic and flawed. But, for the not-so-obvious reasons, Richard is the one I related to the most - because of his desire to write the story of the people he loved, and the struggles that ensued.
Richard is a shadow of the possible hero, Ugwu, as their lives and sins are thinly paralleled. But where Ugwu can step forward and assume the rightful position of a voice for his country, Richard must step back. Which he does. Reluctantly at first, but with a confidence and peace at the end that sits heavy on my mind. As deep truth should.
Ultimately, what Nigeria needs, is for Richard to stop. He is accepted and loved by Nigeria (Kainene), he is used by Nigeria (Olanna), and he is hated yet eventually accepted by Nigeria (Odenigbo). He also plays a role in inspiring Nigeria (Ugwu), but ultimately, his responsibility within Nigeria is to back off and play the minor character. Because he is not Nigeria. He is the white foreigner. He is Churchill.
"She pulled a cigarette from the case, but she didn't light it. She put it down the bedside table and came over and hugged him, a tremulous tightening of her arms around him. He was surprised he did not hug her back. She had never embraced him that closely unless they were in bed. She did not seem to know what to make of the hug either, because she backed away from him quickly and lit the cigarette. He thought about that hug often, and each time he did he had the sensation of a wall crumbling." pg 88
"He discusses the British soldier-merchant Tubman Goldie, how he coerced, cajoled, and killed to gain control of the pal-oil trade and how, at Berlin Conference of 1884 where Europeans divided Africa, he ensured that Britain beat France to two protectorates around the River Niger: the North and the South.
The British preferred the North. The heat there was pleasantly dry; the Hausa-Fulani were narrow-featured and therefore superior to the negroid Southerners, Muslim and therefore as civilized as one could get for natives., feudal and therefore perfect for indirect rule. Equable emirs collected taxes for the British, and the British, in return, kept the Christian missionaries away.
The humid South, on the other hand, was full of mosquitoes and antimists and disparate tribes. The Yoruba were the largest in the Southwest. In the Southeast, the Igbo lived in small republican communities. They were nondocile and worryingly ambitious. Since the did not have the good sense to have kings, the British created "warrant chiefs." because indirect tule cost the Crown less. Missionaries were allowed in to tame the pagans, and the Christianity and education they brought flourished. In 1914, the governor-general joined the North and the South, and his wife picked the name. Nigera was born." pg 146
For more one . . .