HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf), 435 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
Nigerian patriot and part-time U.S.-resident Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half Of A Yellow Sun opens innocently enough in the early 60s, just as her motherland is achieving its independence.
Adichie presents an unflinching account of the Nigeria-Biafra War that raged from 1967-70 after eastern Nigeria seceded to form the Republic of Biafra. The nation was still recovering from divisive British colonial rule that ignited the fires of tribal hatred.
Intrepid 13-year-old Ugwu leaves his tiny village to work as houseboy in a university town for Odenigbo, a blowhard mathematics prof and staunch revolutionary.
Odenigbo believes that exploitation must be understood in order to be resisted, and enhances Ugwu's book-learning by letting him eavesdrop as he and his cronies debate everything from the banal to class and tribal versus national allegiance and whether the African and the European can ever truly be reconciled.
Unfortunately, Ugwu - removed from mud-wall, thatched-roof hut realities to a life of privilege - loses his moral compass.
The disconnect begins when Odenigbo moves in with his stunning mistress, Olanna, who leaves flaring nostrils, tented pants and exposed human frailties in her trail.
The saga of Olanna and her entirely non-identical twin, Kainene, an acerbic liberationist businesswoman who suffers no fools, is at the core of this lyrical yet brutal epic.
Adichie strings it all together with an offbeat flow that meanders back and forth from early to late 60s, chronicling the interpersonal follies of the African middle class as the backdrop to a commentary on civil war.
It's a brilliant take on modern African history.
Adichie reads October 21 and joins a round table October 22.