You will savor every moment of this deliciously crafted storyline by Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche as she serves up a breathtaking master class in creative writing. It is not an exaggeration to say this novel is a work of art – a masterpiece!
I knew very little about the Biafran war in Nigeria before reading this, but through Adiche’s powerful story telling, I now feel for the plight of the 3 million men and women who lost their lives in 1967, when the Igbo tribe declared independence away from the main tribes in Nigeria (the Yoruba’s and Hausa’s).
Gripping from start to finish, this is one of those books (rare since childhood) that made me unaware of the physical act of reading. I became lost in its exquisite prose, to such an extent that, every sound and emotion lifted off the page and became real to my imagination. It is also a book that left me staring blankly at the final page distraught that it had finished – it was that damn good!
The story line opens before the war, shortly after Nigeria wins independence from the UK, when middle-class life at Nsukka University is rich in food, booze, revolutionary rhetoric and hope. The narrative focus shifts between 5 characters connected to the university:
- The central figure is Ugwu a young houseboy for Odenigbo
- Odenigbo is an eloquent but eccentric university maths professor
- Olanna becomes Odenigbo’s wife
- Richard is an English ex-pat who falls in love with Nigerian art
- And Olanna has a twin sister called Kainene
A great plot
The author competently weaves the themes of love and betrayal, laughter and misery throughout the story line. At first, the drama unfolds like a modern day soap opera, with plenty of twists and turns in human relationships. The narrative explores Odenigbo’s pomposity and his unconventional academic friends, Ugwu’s lustful habits and his attempts to reconcile his poor upbringing in the village with his new middle class life on campus, Olanna’s ability to make everyone fall in love with her, plus Kainene’s iron-clad will in pursuing a career in business.
Half way through, the mood abruptly shifts as the characters are faced with the Biafran war, and the narrative transforms to reflect the tensions. Through Adiche’s evocative writing style, we witness the horrors, the massacres, the panic, the children who starve and die in the most horrific ways as if we are actually present.
As a consequence, I grew attached to Adiche’s characters who are complex, warm, funny, but also flawed human beings. No one is perfect, but they seem more real and more lovable as a result. So when their world is destroyed – it cuts deep. None of the characters are one dimensional and many of their experiences can provide lessons for us today.
It’s a fantastic read
If I had my way, this book would make for compulsory reading for any young intelligent, aspirational black woman. It’s astounding to think such accomplished work was written when Adiche was in her mid twenties! She went on to win the Orange broadband prize for best fiction for this novel, at the age of twenty-nine in 2007.
Needless to say, from cover to cover, her extraordinary writing gift is awe-inspiring (and that’s coming from a critical writer). On one hand, Adiche possesses an incredible reverence for her identity and the complexity of human relationships yet she reveals a deft maturity in being able to depict the harrowing, historical events of the Biafran war with both delicacy and accuracy.
How will this book change your life?
Be the first amongst your friends to read this before it hits movie theatres next year! I cannot emphasise what a triumph this book represents for African (black) literature! Devour it. Get lost in it. Share it with others. Then come back and give us your opinion.
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