Cutting it close again, but here to announce August’s Wonder Pens Reads: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Early on in our planning, I scheduled Half of a Yellow Sun for August because it involved the sun and August is sunny. It wasn’t the cleverest reason, but we’re all doing our best. (I also did Braiding Sweetgrass in the summer because it’s a time to be outside and to breathing in the fresh air and all the green things.) But the timing is also good for this one because this is a long, sweeping, beautiful summer read, a completely engrossing, late afternoon on the fire escape kind of read.
It’s a story of several characters in the midst of Nigeria’s political turmoil and the creation of Biafra, an independent republic split off from it, established by the Igbo people. This was my own introduction to Biafra and its short-lived existence and the turmoil and destruction of the civil war in Nigeria. Twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, with different experiences and expectations, and the people in their orbits struggle to survive through the Biafran War, their lives torn apart, relationships changed.
Often we look at non-fiction as a way to learn about the world, and I have learned much about history and changing geographic borders through memoirs and biographies (Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, Helene Cooper’s biography of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Madame President). But fiction can also open up new worlds, and sometimes, in ways that are more vivid, more meaningful.
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer shows a much more complex and nuanced Vietnam War, along with the people swept up in it, and the repercussions of it for those left over. Cutting for Stone, one of my favourite books of all time, sit set against Ethiopia’s political revolution. Brothers by Yu Hua is about two stepbrothers in a small village during China’s Cultural Revolution. These books, these stories may only have been possible in the midst of the history they’re in, but they are also stories of people. These are the stories that make up our world. Rather than striving for the accuracy of numbers, of dates, of events, Half of a Yellow Sun tells us the stories of the people who live through it, the people who are the revolutionaries and the houseboys and the lovers and the expats.
It’s a good read. It moves slowly and swiftly at the same time. Your eyes will be open wide the whole time, I promise.
As always, our Wonder Pens Reads books include a notecard that you can use as a bookmark, to take notes on, or to just stick in your journal or on your wall.