If it’s possible to see the sunset over the grasslands of southern Nigeria and feel the warm air, when you’ve never been there, you’ve read Adichie’s work. If you now understand what it feels like to feel plagued by the paranoid sensation that the world around you is about to evaporate like fog when the African sun rises, you’ve probably also read her work.
Truly, I have never met someone who made human suffering so tangible and pervasive that the characters enter my dreams and waking thoughts; not since I read the works of Leo Tolstoy. (I am sadly under-educated in African writers other than Chinua Achebe and Albert Camus.)
Unlike Tolstoy, Adichie explores the middle, working and poorest classes. She contrasts the opulent lifestyle of revolutionary thinkers, Odenigbo and his friends, swilling back cognac with Ugwu, a quick-witted villager working in Odenigbo’s house. Yet, the most capativating charater is Olanna, a beauty whose strength and belief in new future for Nigerians is tested by the horrors of war. The changes Adichie allows Olanna to experience are heartbreaking and dauntingly real; I can only assume this as one who has never been through a war.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian author of The Purple Hibicus and Half of a Yellow Sun, recently spoke at SEIU building in Washington, D.C. in late October. What was most interesting to me during her her talk was how she felt this sense of priviledge in being able to get a good education and become a writer. She was lucky and she was well aware of this blessing. Whenever she would return to see her cousins who stayed in the village and saw how they married young and struggled to make a living, she wondered what they must think of her, the fancy writer working in New York City. Adichie expressed interest in working with aspiring Nigerian writers in the future and possibly running a writing workshop. Currently, she finds herself very busy writing and persuing her book tour of new collection of short stories, The Thing Around Her Neck.
Now, having read Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, I can see why the room was packed and full of lit up happy faces. I am a huge fan as well and inspired by her as a writer. Adichie has the innate ability perform as a surgeon, feats that seem impossible to the average person; painting the horrors of a war she was too young to live through. And at the same time, she finds a way to make the readers also experience. No, sense_the fragility of humanity. I will never forget the image of Olanna sitting on the floor of the train after seeing a town torn apart by fire and human destruction. The strange apathy her character feels staring into the face of a woman mourning the death of her baby leaves the tongue dry and wordless. I can only think of one other time I felt this way: seeing the four-story stupa piled from floor to ceiling with the skulls of those killed by Pol Pot regime in Choeung Ek, Cambodia. In the same way, it’s a priviledge to have my eyes opened to these atrocities. Hopefully, I can be part of a more positive future as I know Adichie is also hoping for her cousins, former neighbors and her future family.
To learn more about Adichie, visit her personal Web site: http://www.l3.ulg.ac.be/adichie/.