Orange 2007

"The world has to know the truth of what is happening, because they simply cannot remain silent while we die."

For those of us who did not know the truth this book was most surely essential reading.

At first I marvelled at what I was learning about the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-70. Told from the Biafran point of view the main characters are Biafran: Olanna and Odenigbo, well-off and well-educated academics; Ugwu, their houseboy; Kainene, Olanna's twin sister and Richard who is a British expat and Kainene's partner Their lives are laid before us as their characters are developed. Little by little uncomfortable, sometimes slightly shocking phrases begin to appear. Issues of race, culture, loyalty, class and ethnicity become intermingled and I struggled attempting to unravel the reasons for the characters’ behaviours.

I was not far into the book when I found myself often reaching for my tiny index sticky markers. I used these when I felt anger, compelled to ask a question, exclaim or simply love the turn of phrase of the author. Sometimes in Half a Yellow Sun it was the simplicity of what was said that was so compelling. All was not bleak and in places there were wonderful examples of hope and the survival of the human spirit. The young Ugwu dedicates himself to mastering English and is justifiably proud of his efforts while we see Richard, white European equally keen to speak Igbo. Both wish to be considered as achieving – so what is it about a culture that gives a character a sense of belonging and the acceptance?

I ‘knew’ that there were going to be the most terrible scenes of violence, descriptions of atrocities that beggared belief but was still shocked at the starkness. The historical political events continue as we witness human beings whom we have got to know in their everyday pre war life struggle to survive, looking for places to live, food to eat and people they have lost. Grief, violence and fear replace the evenings of comfort and dinner parties pre war. It makes you wonder why some become so preoccupied with material extras of life.

The strength of the human spirit does triumph in numerous ways. Here is one example from which I resolved to learn.

Edna has just heard of the cruel death of four little girls when the Baptist church in her home town had been bombed. Edna sobs herself to sleep and Olanna who has been attempting to comfort her

…….. ‘sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off. She thought how ephemeral life was, about not choosing misery’…….

So at the end, the lasting theme for me is one of man’s inhumanity to man. When will we learn to respect and value human life, refrain from taking up arms and give to those in greatest need ....

Do visit the author's website where you may read further regarding the history. Deeply moving are the personal stories of Nigerians who have responded to the book and have written their own personal reflections: