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In remembrance of Biafra; half of a yellow sun



Saturday May 30 marks half a century in remembrance of the Biafran / Nigerian Civil War which took millions of lives between July 6, 1967 – January 15, 1970. On social media, the hashtag is #ozoemena meaning “May it never happen again”.

Nigerian Literature did not fail to capture the war cries, battles, scavenging, survival and scars of the Nigerian Civil War, teaching and reminding every one of us that though history may convey painful experiences, the lessons to be garnered from it must never be ignored. Some of such books include There Was A Country by Chinua Achebe, Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, The Nigeria-Biafran War by Chima .J. Korieh, My Command by Olusegun Obasanjo and among many other powerful books which give life to one of the most eventful occurence in the Nigerian history.

At the age of 17, Adichie wrote a play titled For Love of Biafra in 1998 of which Britannica says “she explored the war in the late 1960s between Nigeria and its secessionist Biafra republic”. It was also revealed that she later dismissed it as “an awfully melodramatic play.” Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun was published in 2006. Though it was fiction, it did not fail to provide indepth description of the horrors of the Biafran war. The book title originated from the Biafran symbol which comprises of horizontals of red, black, and green, with a golden rising sun over a golden bar. The storyline tells of events before, during and after Biafran war in relation to how it affected the lives of five characters with a rather tragic ending that leaves the reader racing with questions.

The award-winning writer of igbo descent has second-person experiences as the war claimed the lives of her grandfathers leaving her parents and relatives as survivors and witnesses of the war. “I wrote this novel because I wanted to write about love and war, because I grew up in the shadow of Biafra,” she said. This had her reading up books related to the Biafran War and questioning relatives who were survivors.

The novel won Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (fiction category), PEN ‘Beyond Margins’ Award (now called PEN Open Book Awards), Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction (now called Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction); all in 2007 and ‘Best of the Best’ of the second decade of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2015, It was also adapted into a movie produced by Biyi Bandele in 2013 featuring Thandie Newton, Chinwetel Ejiofor and John Boyega.

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Award-winning Caribbean Writer, Marie-Elena John, describes the novel as “… a tribute to her people, the Igbo, who after being massacred in 1966 broke away from Nigeria to create the Republic of Biafra. [But] this novel is not a standard war account: Though we are not sheltered from its horrors, Adichie excels in the way she tells about war… ” In a review for The Guardian, Maya Jaggi commended saying Adichie took her time in reaching the privations of war. “Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie brings a lucid intelligence and compassion to the painful history of Biafra in Half of a Yellow Sun.”

Fifty years down the line, owing to Nigeria’s leadership aversion to the study of history in its educational sector, it is a testament to Adichie’s quest for storytelling and justice that Half of a Yellow Sun still remains the go-to book for reliving the horrors of thr Biafran War. Nigeria and indeed the world would remain grateful to her for helping to preserve the memories of probably the defining moment of Nigeria’s history.