Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Some time ago a friend, who spends part of her time working at an NGO orphanage in Kenya, asked me if I had read any African authors.  The only one I could recall was Ben Okri; I had read his wonderful book, The Famished Road in the early nineties.  Well, she said, let me give you a list of those I think are the best.  On that list was Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and I chose her novel Americanah to read first.

I was so impressed with her writing that I then bought her award winning HALF OF A YELLOW SUN but before I could start it, a friend told me that she had already read it and said it was about the Biafran war.  I was not in the mood to read something about war and starvation so it stayed on my bedside table for about a month.  In the end I picked it up and then I couldn’t put it down.  Chimamanda is such a powerful writer and manages to make all her characters seem so real that you feel you really know them.
It is the story of two sisters from a wealthy Igbo family who have little in common and lead very separate lives.  Kainene is a successful business woman who looks after her father’s interests in Port Harcourt and Olanna is a teacher in love with a revolutionary professor.  In the first part of the book we learn about their lives, comfortable, educated and wealthy.  Then the killing of Igbo people begins; families, soldiers, politicians flee to the south east to Igbo territory and then the war begins.  The writer does not gloss over the barbaric details of the war but neither does she glorify them.  The strength of her telling is that she shows how ordinary people can be sucked into the maelstrom of war and barbarism without even realising it; how they can fight against starvation and sickness using whatever resources are to hand.  It is the human, moving story of a people at war who starved while the world watched.

This is also a book you can’t put down. Beautifully written and very evocative, it tells the story of a couple in love, Ifemelu and Obinze, young middle-class Nigerians. When Ifemelu goes to live in America she encounters racism for the first time in her life and uses her blog to come to terms with who she really is. I won’t spoil the story by telling you the details, suffice to say that Chimamanda creates a powerful image of young middle-class Nigerians, who want to continue their education in England or America and go to any lengths to achieve their goals. Well worth reading.


Joan Fallon is a writer and novelist living in Spain.