Notes from the first U.S. Half of a Yellow Sun reading

When Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie finished reading a section from Half of a Yellow Sun at 192 Books last week, a woman in the audience begged her to continue. “I could sit here and listen to you all night,” she said.

I felt the same way. Adichie’s second novel is one of those rare stories that read just as well out loud — when narrated by the author, at least — as on the page.

In the most memorable part of the follow-up Q&A session, a reader expressed her outrage over a radio segment in which an unnamed interviewer accused Adichie of focusing on “privileged members of Nigerian society.” (That’s not actually a fair characterization of the book. One of the three protagonists, Ugwu, hails from a poor village. He has never encountered running water or other modern amenities before he turns up for his new job as a houseboy. Afraid the food in his new master’s refrigerator will run out, Ugwu stashes some chicken in his pocket and sleeps with it there.)

Adichie acknowledged how condescending it can be “when people expect one to write about ‘the Noble African’ in the Bush who can’t speak for himself,” as though this portrait were the only possible authentic one. She explained that, in writing about Biafra, she wanted to explore class — “the way it affects perceptions of the world, and the way the war turned that around. People who had been drinking tea and were comfortable were now eating crickets.”


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