What I’m Reading: Half of a Yellow Sun

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the movie Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Half-of-a-Yellow-Sun-movie March-2014-BellaNaija

 

I’d already read Americanah some months ago and while I wasn’t as hyped as others have been about the book (even after seeing her speak/read in person), it was nonetheless interesting. I’d heard of Half of a Yellow Sun, which was written prior to Americanah, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it. The movie’s starpower (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose) and subject matter (the Biafran War in Nigeria) drew me in and these actors delivered the plot in a way that made me run to buy the book.

Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichies-three-covers-for-her-book-Half-of-a-Yellow-Sun

I am about half of the way through the book (it’s 544 pages long), but I am pleased to say that the movie follow very close to the book. The book itself is written in Adichie’s lyrical prose; I actually like this one much better than Americanah. Perhaps Half of a Yellow Sun didn’t get the props it should have because it had nothing to do with America (we all know how America, as a whole, thinks of Africa or any country “over there”).  Perhaps it’s because the formation of the nation of Biafra, and the subsequent civil war, is little more than a footnote outside of America, and an nonexistent one within the USA. Regardless, I highly recommend Half of a Yellow Sun, and I will be rewatching the movie when I’m done.

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Disturbing the Comfortable

I am a fan of Bookbub. I have tried a lot of books of which I wouldn’t have otherwise known, and found some gems in the process. One of my main criteria for purchasing a book–free or otherwise–is reading the reviews. While reviews are arbitrary and usually subjective (I used to review books for a living, so I know), I can still get a sense of whether a book is worth me taking the time to get it from the reviews. I especially pay attention to reviews about editorial errors; too many of those and I will pass the book by, even if it sounds interesting.

I recently skimmed the reviews for a fantasy/paranormal book and saw that quite a few reviewers said something on the order of the book plot making them uncomfortable; one reviewer even titled his/her review as “Disturbing”. These comments stemmed from the plot premise of the protagonist–and her ilk–boosting their powers via sexual intercourse. The comments thus ranged from comparisons to human trafficking, to parental perspective (e.g., would I want my daughter doing this?).

This got me to thinking of a character in the Bible (hey–years of Southern Baptist upbringing die hard). Paul, formerly known as Saul before getting a clue on the road to Damascus, was charged by Jesus to “comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable”. Much as Paul did for the Word of God, we as writers–indeed, all creative folks–should have the same charge. Our mission in life is not just to do what we love and get paid (well) for it–though that’s a good start. We need to roll like Paul and shift the paradigm of literature. We shouldn’t be afraid to write/paint/record/dance/design/sew what we like because it’s different, or not being done/trendy, or so far out the box that the concept can’t be seen by the Hubble telescope.

There is a reason that Gillian Flynn is blowing up the New York Times Bestseller List with her latest novel, Gone Girl, even before the movie was cast with Ben Affleck. She did the same with her previous novel, Dark Places. There is a reason, beyond his excellent writing style, why Junot Díaz won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for his novel The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There is a reason why Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun, is a literary force, in the vein of Wole Soyinka, Buchi Emecheta, and Chinua Achebe–long before she was introduced to the masses by a sampling  of her TED Talk, “We Should All Be Feminists” .

Each of the aforementioned authors discussed social and political issues that were preferably not discussed at all: domestic violence; fratricide and matricide; dictatorships; civil wars; new nation creation and dismantling; political corruption; feminism; the politics of skin color; immigration (both documented and undocumented) and the lengths to which it will be obtained, including paid marriages. They dared to shine a light on the underbelly of the human condition and show the maggots thriving beneath…and we, as a society, are better for it.

To that end, we as creatives should all strive to provide more than just entertainment. Nor should we try to shock, for shock’s sake. Instead, we should try to create platforms that further foster discussion, since discussion leads to understanding, and understanding leads to change. Sounds very Yoda-like, but was Yoda ever wrong? 🙂

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