This is an amazing, compassionate book.
But it is not easy to read. It is set during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967-1970.
As I began to read distant television images from that time (when I was still a teenager) came to me. I only recall images of starving African children and the feelings of horror and shock that accompanied them.
But I had no idea what these images related to.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche took me there in this book and showed me graphically and poignantly what this war was about and its horrific impact on the Biafran state – the violence, the abuse, the slaughter – and the starvation and death of so many when they were deliberately cut off from many supplies of food, water and basic needs.
She takes us on this journey through the eyes of two sisters, their partners and families, their houseboy and an English writer. Chimamanda creates these people so vividly on the page that I grew to care for them deeply, as they struggled with their emotional relationships through this horror.
She cleverly outlines the impacts of British colonisation and its creation of the country Nigeria. The Igbo people, one of the oldest kingdoms in Nigeria, lost its sovereignty to the British in 1911. Following independence from Britain, they sought to establish a separate country from Nigeria, the state of Biafra. This led to civil war, with Britain and Russia providing military support to the Northern Nigerians.
What she shows us is that everyone is a victim in wars – the women and children raped, slaughtered and starved to death; the creation of hatred between people when they don’t know who they can trust and when they compete for meagre amounts of supplies; the soldiers who learn the culture of murder, rape and hatred.
It has left me pondering deeply about so many people, in so many different places, attempting to survive in their worlds where war continues – In Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, parts of Africa, Syria, the Ukraine etc. – whilst Western capitalists (men in blue ties) send weapons, drone fighters and bombs to protect their own interests.
Here is a quote from an interview with Chimmanda Ngozi Adichie
“I wrote this novel because I wanted to write about love and war, because I grew up in the shadow of Biafra, because I lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war, because I wanted to engage with my history in order to make sense of my present, because many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved in Nigeria today, because my father has tears in his eyes when he speaks of losing his father, because my mother still cannot speak at length about losing her father in a refugee camp, because the brutal bequests of colonialism make me angry, because the thought of the egos and indifference of men leading to the unnecessary deaths of men, women and children enrages me, because I don’t ever want to forget.”
This is an unforgettable book which I highly recommend.
Here are two more of her books which are also very good.
Purple Hibiscus -Based in Nigeria about catholic fanaticism and domestic violence
Americanah – A powerful, tender story of race and identity