From the book cover: In 1960s Nigeria, a country blighted by civil war, three lives intersect. Ugwu, a boy from a poor village, works as a houseboy for a university lecturer. Olanna, a young woman, has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos to live with her charismatic new lover, the professor. The third is Richard, a shy Englishman in thrall to Olanna's enigmatic twin sister. When the shocking horror of the war engulfs them, their loyalties are severely tested as they are pulled apart and thrown together in ways that none of them imagined...
My take: Let me start by telling you that I now have a new favorite author- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Yes, I absolutely loved this book. Though this is the second novel by this Nigerian author, this is the first book of hers that I happened to read. The writing is beautiful with well etched characters who are driven by their impulses, the novel is a feast.
Though I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, as I keep repeating, there are priceless works such as this that changes my perspective. I'm ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I had very little knowledge about Nigerian history and literature before starting this book. Set against the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-70, the book not only tackles the political issues that were prevalent then, but also portrays characters and emotions as they are.
Narrated in the third person, the book alternates among Ugwu, Olanna and Richard for their individual stories. Three very different characters, yet each incident is seen very differently in their eyes. But the character that fascinated me the most was Kainene, Olanna's twin sister. While Olanna can be described as the conventional beauty, Kainene is the opposite. She prefers to remain an enigma right till the end of the book.
The relationship between the two sisters and how it changes later on is also one of the key factors that drives the story forward. Olanna's lover, Odenigbo is another interesting character who loves his academic company of scholars and books. The book can be divided into two parts- the early sixties and the late sixties. Adichie effortlessly weaves in the past into the present, keeping us engrossed right till the end.
Though the fist half of the book is spent in introducing the characters and their thoughts and emotions, the second half mostly deals with the war and its stark realities. Violence, poverty, desperation seeps in through the pages and grips you. But it is also a book of beauty. That shows that love can be found everywhere.
The novel is sprinkled with Igbo words and phrases throughout, but this did not put me off. The latter half of the novel describes the plight of Olanna, Odenigbo and their Baby to flee from Nsukka, where they live to take shelter in the refugee town of Umuahia. Food shortages and the sheer terrror that haunts the people inflicted by the war are portrayed brilliantly. It is heart breaking to learn that a lot of the war background described is fact rather than fiction.
I loved the book and highly recommend this one to everyone. If you are a fan of historical fiction, then you will adore this book. But this is also a story that speaks about human bonds and the beautiful emotion called love that pushes us to sacrifice and sometimes, question our beliefs in doing so.
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