**Interview with Mrs Chinyere Achonu from Leyton about
Half of A Yellow Sun by Ngozi Adichie.
“A story, a story. Tell me a story”.
Chinua Achebe, master Nigerian story-teller and Adichie’s mentor and fan praised her story-telling craft. The Daily mail went so far as to describe the book as a classic. There’s a whole queue in front of Adichie’s work a vying to be classic let alone read.
During the Biafran War many of the Ibo community members from Nigeria comprised of minor civil servants lodged in Walthamstow. It was the late sixties, early seventies . Years after the Nigeria-Biafra War they moved back home retired and elderly . They left behind a population of mixed race offspring raised by professional white English mothers. Only those forgotten mothers can have any idea about the impact of the war on Nigerians in London but like their spouses they relied on pro- Nigerian government news on BBC TV. The men meeting at The British –Biafra Association meetings in Red Lion Square, Holborn during the war outbid each other in their guilt for being safely away from the mutilations, rape, curfews, black market trading and starvation and then wrote group cheques for their unknown comrades in the field In a bid for self- salvation. After the war no-one spoke about it. The important thing then was to know your enemy and get Nigeria back on its feet.
Who in London wants to remember let alone review the war? The book is a story and has to be that. Adichie knows that memories are warped and elaborated. She pays homage to her parents and grandparents by writing down what they revealed. She is the dutiful daughter and the privileged tutee of the master story-teller, Achebe.
For me I respect Adichie for gathering stories from her traumatised parents whose related experiences of the Biafran War inspired her to shape characters in a time she never knew when a country was rapidly- changing and being mortally fractured in the process. Exploring those memories and by creating three main characters, Adichie shows the way people use their instinct to survive, and their capability to adapt to circumstances and fellow humans. The impact of the novel is by way of its crafted story-telling . The reader needs to empathise with those desperate people in villages and towns where running water and electric light never existed, in places where some people have much and most people have nothing . She does a good job taking the reader there and setting the scene. She is however more interested in relationships and how people tick.
Hope reigns in the novel. There is an Igbo saying , “No condition is permanent”. It used to be painted on the overcrowded public transport together with prayers to God. It’s a mantra deep down in the psyche of eastern Nigerian people. It suits the book. So could suit, “Nothing surprises us!”.
I disliked the main characters: The white visiting professor searching for something deep in Africa and looking weak in the process, the houseboy daring to be intelligent and thinking with ambition and cunning (going right against the grain!) and the young learned daughter of Biafra who would be all right whatever happened. Cream always rises.
The book tails off at the end as though the story-teller is exhausted and the reader has to form their own conclusions especially about who the narrator is . (Spoiler alert).
Here is a book I can easily forget and others say the same. It is worth celebrating as Achebe does but one not worth revisiting.
C. Achonu (Mrs) August 2013_________________________________________________