he name Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie is more than just a household name to African literature enthusiasts. Over the years, this name has become a force to be reckoned with on the global stage and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is arguably Adichie’s opus magnum.
Since so many reviews have been written, and much academic research has been done on this book, I don’t think that writing another review would add much value to the conversation. Instead, I want to briefly outline how the book has impacted me, and then share 20 of my favourite quotes from the book with you – either to remind you of how amazing and important the book is (if you have already read it), or to (hopefully) entice you to read it in case you haven’t yet.
Before reading ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ I knew a fair amount of facts about the Nigerian Civil War and its background. Most of my knowledge was, however, based on the events that took place during the war itself, not the cataclysmic events that plunged Nigeria into this 20th century catastrophe that has, in my opinion, not been talked about enough.
A lot of times, when the Nigerian Civil War comes up in conversations, during events, talks, etc., the slogan that there were ‘No victor[s and] no vanquished’ during and after the period, has seemed to be predominant. I have, even before reading this book, had my squabbles with this slogan – after all, how can there be no vanquished in a war? I had never heard anything like that in relation to any European (or any other) conflict, and so, this was a rather odd concept for me. Since I’m no expert in Nigerian history, I tried to tell myself that since the war happened between people from (what is supposed to be) one country, the country’s leaders must have chosen a pacifying slogan that would put the past to rest, and hoped for the best. That kind of approach has never been my style and has gone against everything I believe in when it comes to dealing with history, but who am I to contest a country’s ‘strategy’ to ‘heal’?
After reading ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, having started ‘There Was a Country’ (by Chinua Achebe), and having done some more research into the precursory events to the Nigerian Civil War, I have personally become absolutely opposed to this ‘No victor no vanquished’ slogan. The ‘pogroms in the North‘ that people have been telling me about (that happened before the beginning of the war) were not just killings, they were acts of genocide. Plain and simple. And, at least from where I am standing, that implies that there was a ‘vanquished’ party. Also, considering that the federal troops of Nigeria eventually subdued and re-annexed the Biafran territory, it appears to me that there was a ‘victor[ious]’ party.
Imagine if someone said that there were ‘no victors [and] no vanquished’ during the Holocaust or the Second World War. Unthinkable, right?
I don’t want to go into details about the war and the things that happened before the war in this post (for example, how life in Lagos continued as normal while people in the Biafran territory starved; how the North originally had no intentions to be an actual part of ‘Nigeria’ until oil was discovered in the South and letting that block break off from Nigeria would not have been a lucrative choice, etc.), but I just wanted to put this thought of potentially reconsidering the ‘No victor no vanquished’ stance when it comes to the Nigerian civil war out there. If this seems hard, or odd, just think about it in European terms (i.e. Holocaust), and I’m sure you’ll see where I’m coming from.
Having said that, let’s move on to my 20 favourite quotes of Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s unmissable and necessary novel ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’:
“[…] the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe. I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came.”
“The white man brought racism into the world. He used it as a basis of conquest.”
“Nigeria did not have an economy until Independence. The colonial state was authoritarian, a benignly brutal dictatorship designed to benefit Britain.”
“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”
“How can we resist exploitation if we don’t have the tools to understand exploitation?”
“Of course, we all hate somebody, but it’s about control. Civilization teaches you control.”
“’It’s the oil,’ she said. ‘They can’t let us go easily with all that oil.”
“How much did one know of the feelings of those without voice?”
“If we had people pouring guns and planes into our hands as they pour into Nigeria, this thing would have ended a long time ago and everybody would be in his own house now.”
“God always fights for the side that has more arms.”
“He was killed in Port Harcourt. They were bombing and shelling us, and a piece of shrapnel cut off his head, completely beheaded him, and his body kept running. His body kept running and it didn’t have a head.”
“Richard exhaled. It was like somebody sprinkling pepper on his wound: Thousands of Biafrans were dead, and this man wanted to know if there was anything new about one dead white man.”
“Richard would write about this, the rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person.”
“Imagine what these vandals have reduced us to.”
“There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable.”
“I remember somebody telling me when I first came to be careful about hiring an Igbo houseboy because, before I knew it, he would own my house and the land it was built on. Another small whisky?”
“Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.”
“ The more civilians you bomb, the more resistance you grow”
“Even the grass will fight for Biafra.”
“If the sun refuses to rise we will make it rise”