That is the name of the book within the book Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which is a haunting story about the Nigerian civil war and the brief life of the breakaway state of Biafra. The book-within-the-book is written by an English journalist who finds himself in love, first with a woman and then with the revolution, and stays; he is just one of the characters whose life during the horrible, unthinkable war this novel chronicles.
Half of a Yellow Sun is an impressive novel, an emotional and sympathetic story told through a few people, that is as much about human relationships — their loves, passions, growing up — under stress as about any other larger history. The rhythm of the chapters follows what life feels like in actuality, when you wake up one year to find that there’s a war on and you’ve been displaced and it’s not clear how it all started. Adichie’s prose is evocative, both of a place far away and of emotions that are as fresh as this morning, during this time of dislocation.
It is shocking to me that the war in Nigeria only happened some 45 years ago and yet my generation knows so little of it. As an American my knowledge of African history in general is pathetic, something I know is shared by many of my peers; but the fact that it takes an elegant novel, published only a few years ago, to fill in the gaps in my knowledge gives me pause, and frightens me, really. Is it necessary to forget how much horror there has been in the world?