The Librarian Is In


‘Half of a Yellow Sun’
Directed by Biyi Bandele, based on the novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2012.

Back in Spring 2018 when I carried out an oral history interview with Madu Udeh for the In Your Own Words project, he recommended that listeners wanting to know more about Nigerian history read the novel “Half of A Yellow Sun.” Having written this column for over a year now, I knew that it would be faster to watch the film adaptation, so after requesting the library purchase the cinematic work (go/requests/), I did.

Shall I say more about the author first? 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is becoming a household name within the black community, with a clip from her speech “We Should All Be Feminists,” being featured on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” album. Even before the album dropped, academics (myself included) lost it/had wet dreams (and rightfully so) over her TED talk “The Danger of A Single Story.” 

And controversy, too, followed Adichie when she made comments suggesting that women and trans women’s lived experiences may be different. So, all this is to say, she is no stranger to the limelight. And when we think of African women making it big in the United States, she, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira are at the top of the list.

All that said, “Half of A Yellow Sun” treats Nigeria’s Civil or “Biafran” War. I don’t want to pretend to be an expert on this — I’m not. But I’ll tell you what I think I know. Following colonization by the British, Nigerians are ushered towards a self-identification that is not indigenous to their mores. There are the the Hausas, the Igbos, the Yorubas and, not to mention, the Muslims, the Catholics, the animists and those who embrace more than one of these tribal and religious identities. When the country achieves its independence, it must revisit systems of self-identification: Are they Britain’s former colony of Nigeria? Or something else? It is within this space of cultural turmoil that one party decides to secede from the union, preferring to identify as “Biafra,” but, as history teaches us about civil war in the United States in the mid-19th century, secession is a polarizing act and leads to much instability. (Please feel free to write in and correct me where I’m wrong with any of the details.)

I don’t think the movie is great. *shrug* 

I do think it’s educational. And I support most anything in our collection that will further humanize African peoples to Western readers, viewers, educators and learners. I also don’t mind watching beautiful black people do most anything. 😉 

I’d say check out this work if you plan on studying abroad in Nigeria or England; if you’re interested in the legacy of European colonialism on the African continent; if you want to know more about literary productions beyond the classic Western canon. 

For works that treat similar themes, see Equatorial Guinean author Donato Ndongo’s “Tinieblas de tu memoria negra” (The Shadows of Your Black Memory), which follows a young African man’s preparation for Catholic priesthood, or Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth,” which I have yet to read.

Literatures & Cultures Librarian Katrina Spencer is liaison to the Anderson Freeman Center, the Arabic Department, the Comparative Literature Program, the Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies (GSFS) Program, the Language Schools, the Linguistics Program and the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

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