Monday, 23 July 2012

Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

On 22nd June I watched author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in one of the Hay Sessions 2012 on Sky Arts. In the session, the Nigerian author delivered her Commonwealth Lecture, which examined fiction as a catalyst for social and political change. There is no doubt about it, the author had an effect on me, which led me to selecting Half of a Yellow Sun to read.

In the video below, the novelist tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice - and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

I am not usually attracted to historical novels and have to admit this is the first one I've read and thoroughly enjoyed; in fact it's one of the best books I've read this year and definitely one of my top five favourites.

Half of a Yellow Sun is the author's second novel, is extremely well written and captured my full attention, providing me with a sharp and realistic insight into the trials and tribulations faced by individuals dealing with trying to manage their lives during the Nigeria-Biafra war.

The novel is set in 1960's Nigeria. Three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village works as a houseboy for a university lecturer. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. The third is Richard, a shy Englishman in thrall to Olanna's enigmatic twin sister. When the shocking horror of the war engulfs them, their loyalties are severely tested as they are pulled apart and thrown together in ways that none of them imagined.

The story immerses you immediately into the multi-layered conflicts of the unfairness of love and war, of traditional versus tribal, of modern versus bureaucratic. You feel the effects of the pain, take relief in the joys and love that are weaved throughout the novel. You fall in love with the characters and all their uniqueness and flaws; human beings with their hopes and fears challenged on a daily, often hourly basis dealing with a time of war, of a rawness and harshness I hope I'll never have to endure in my life time.

Who was my favourite character? It has to be Ugwu, a key narrator, a 13 year old houseboy who reacts rather than acts, although as he grows and develops he does come into his own. I can still hear his voice, 'Yes, sah!' 'Good afternoon, sah!' maintained throughout. There are many scenes I could quote but this one shows his new self evolving:

'This is not a good house, mah,' Ugwu said.
Olanna laughed. 'Look at you. Don't you know many people are sharing houses now? The scarcity is serious. And here we are with two bedrooms and a kitchen and living room and dining room. We are lucky to know an indigene of Umuahia.'
Ugwu said nothing else. He wished she would not be so complacent about it.
'We have decided to have the wedding next month,' Olanna told him a few days later. 'It will be very small, and the reception will be here.'
Ugwu was aghast. For their wedding, he had imagined perfection, the house in Nsukka festively decorated, the crisp, white tablecloth laden with dishes. It was better they wait for the war to end, rather than have their wedding in this house with its sullen rooms and mouldy kitchen.

I liked that the book focused on the experiences of a small set of people who were experiencing the conflict of love and war from very different points of view. When we step into their individual worlds, we don't know their every thought – the narrator who follows them isn't omniscient, which is what gives the novel its heart and strength.

If you haven't had the privilege of reading Half of a Yellow Sun, then I urge you to grab a copy of this literary masterpiece. I know I'm biased being a fan and all, but trust me, you will enjoy the book. Of course I'll be watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie closely.

Half of a Yellow Sun was first published by Fourth Estate in 2006. It won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977. She is from Abba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka, where she attended primary and secondary schools. Her short fiction has been published in literary journals including Granta, and won the International PEN/David Wong award in 2003. Purple Hibiscus, her first novel, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, longlisted for the Booker Prize and was winner of the Hurston/Wright award for d├ębut fiction. Her short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, was published to critical acclaim in 2009. She lives in Nigeria.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Invocation to the Spirit of Inspiration

Introducing: Jo Waterworth, a poet and ceramic artist who has lived in Glastonbury for over twenty-five years. She has had stories, poems and articles published over the years but keeps avoiding ‘success’ in case it changes her life. She also sings with an award-winning community choir.


Come to me gently, like a soft breeze caressing my neck.
Let me feel you as a lover
kissing my body on every sensitive skein of skin.
Run your fingers through my hair.
Fill my in-breath with scent – let me smell roses and dung,
river banks and hot dry sting of deserts.
Fill my out-breath with warmth, with moisture for weeping,
and for watering new growth.
Lift my soul like a thermal so I may soar,
circling far above the earth with clear vision.
Hold me on light wings, outstretched to sense
every nuance and shift in current.
Blow me to new places where I might settle like dust,
barely visible but covering everything.
Blow me through trees and mountains,
across lakes and oceans, into distant cities.
Blow me through time itself –
wreck my life if you must.
I will give myself to you, trust in you,
use you wisely, recognize you in others,
lead others into your ways.
I will experience you fully, all my senses wide open to you,
greatest of lovers.
I will give my mind to you,
every hidden crevice, every forgotten drawer,
every creaking floorboard.
I will invite you to inhabit the cathedral of my mind;
I will make effigies of you for others to worship;
I will sing hymns to you with harmonies divine;
I will sit in silent contemplation waiting for your presence.
I will marry myself in your sight, and keep faith with my vows.
I will name you a thousand-fold, heap praises upon you,
and breathe in your grace until my last expiration
when I hope to be joined with you in everything.                                            

JMW 06-12