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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Half a Yellow Soap Opera

I finally got through Half a Yellow Sun by Adichie. The book started off with a bang, slogged through pages of smarmy soap opera, and ended with war and a whimper. The first third is pretty special. Nice tight sentences and two story lines (as though she based it on Tolstoy's structure for AK. The development of Ugwu and the other characters was quick, as Adichie ignored reasons why things happened, presenting instead the progression of events and character responses.

Here's why the book lost its bubble. She tried to forefront the Biafran war and make it an impetus for character action...I knew little, I still know little. The presentation was sparse, rambling and I remain totally confused. It caused the characters to jump towns repeatedly. Then the small constellation of main characters slept with each other and the entire plot crashed in on itself, only to be picked up in some sentimental way near the end. In fact, the coincidences and Dei ex machina (pluralized) were so stunning and frequent that the book became the Nigerian version of Days of our Lives. I lose interest when things just keep happening without little overall meaning when events are merely a device to get characters sharing feelings or to add more pages. I really began wishing I were reading Coetzee.

Ugwu, the servant and main character for most of the book suddenly, when war came, became an empty vessel, he just went to war, didn't think or feel like he had earlier, he raped without worry. This bothered me for two huge reasons: first the author allowed her character to internally become someone else with no articulated reason (her lack of reasons now became a detriment); second it seemed to play on a myth that the Black Man has no discrete inner self, but is the result of exterior forces. I recall Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who speaks for whom, and a whole host of myth and racial stereotypes in the arts along this line. It's reinforced by Adichie's selective omnipresent narrator's voice that becomes an exterior, Colonial, voice describing the Black Man while denying his voice. I found it somewhat shocking. Then there is the entire class issue that Adichie is conflicted with. Her main characters are outrageously rich but they don't seem to perceive their class in any particular way; they waffle between having a this consciousness and not, which is odd because they are supposed to be political thinkers.

So what to do? I recommend you read about a third and realize that's all that's necessary. I'll reading more of her work, and if I had to place money, I'd bet she's really more of a short story writer than a novelist.