In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university professor. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. And Richard, a shy English writer, is in thrall to Olanna’s enigmatic twin sister. As the horrific Biafran War engulfs them, they are thrown together and pulled apart in ways they had never imagined.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s masterpiece, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, is a novel about Africa in a wider sense: about the end of colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class and race – and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.
This was a very interesting read. The story is set during the Biafran War, which, I am ashamed to say, I knew very little about, so this was a good opportunity to find out a little bit more about the whole event. And obviously, being I as curious as I am, prompted some independent research into the history of Nigeria and the tragedy of this war. We witness history unfold through the eyes of three main characters: the beautiful and smart Olanna, who abandons her wealthy family to live with the revolutionary professor Odenigbo; their servant boy Ugwu; and the English writer Richard, who is desperately in love with Olanna’s twin sister Kainene.
I loved how the author managed to show the way in which war affected the characters, and brought out the best and the worst in all of them as they were forced to face unimaginable difficulties, poverty, hunger and tragedy. All of the main characters underwent significant change as a result of the war, both in their personalities and responses to the adversities they must face, and in their view of the world, as their ideals and political opinions are ultimately crushed. The author was really good at describing the horrors of the war and, even though some images were slightly too graphic for my taste, it was never overwhelming or distracting from the main point she was trying to make in the specific moment.
Overall, this was a really good book, and I can totally see why it was celebrated as much as it was. The only reason I’m not giving it full marks is because I found the author’s prose, while for the most part excellent, was at times slightly too stiff and formal, and some of the characters reacted in way which, to me, seemed somewhat inconsistent with their personality as had been described up to that moment. But that may just be me being too critical, and this is an excellent book nonetheless.