Saturday, 27 February 2021
“Half of a Yellow Sun” is not an easy book.
It captures your attention and doesn’t let go; so maybe not the kind of book to quickly read before bedtime.
However, Adichie is a very talented storyteller, so don’t be deterred by the prospect of a complex story.
Her writing is clear and full of dialogue, which expresses more clearly the fact that much of human behaviour and feelings are universal.
Adichie masters the art of bringing to life not only specific people or characters, but an entire nation.
Most of us will not have a clear image of what Nigeria is really like, but after “Half of a Yellow Sun” it does feel a bit like you’ve been there.
In 1996 Chimamanda goes to study in the USA where she discovers that much of the world outside Africa has a very limited knowledge about this continent: war and poverty we all know, but Africa cannot be limited to such notions.
Her own biography is the background which allows her to make it clear to the reader that there also exists a middle class, that people study at universities, and cities have their museums, writers and scientists.
She writes about the Nigeria/Biafra civil war for her ancestors. It is about her family and about what they went through. Both her grandfathers and an uncle died in detention camps. Most of what she knows about the period 1967 to 1970, she learned from her father’s stories, all of which went into the book.
The parts printed in italic is the book written by Ugwu. Only at the end you realise the book is dedicated to his “master”.
There is no real end to the book:
what happened to Kainene?
what becomes of Ugwu?
how do they organise their lives after the war?
what happened to Biafra after te war?
I think this is because there is still no end to their sufferings, they cannot yet forget what happened to them.
The Biafra conflict remains a problem in Nigeria.
!!History has recently been removed from the secondary school curriculum!!
- p.62: Discussion about the world’s philosophers’ thoughts on Africa:
Hegel: Africa is a land of childhood!
Hume and Voltaire and Locke all felt the same about Africa (says Odenigbo)If Europe had cared about Africa, the Jewish holocaust would not have happened. The world War would not have happened.
They started with the Herera (Namibia) and concluded with the Jews (says Odenigbo).
- p.129: The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world!!
- p148 Nigeria’s position is a delicate one. With the Huasa-Fulani in the pleasantly dry heat in the North, mostly muslims, and the Yoruba and Igbo’s in the humid South, mostly Christians, and the numerous other tribes, the basis for unity does not exist (p198)
- p209 The hatred between the North & the South has been caused simply by the informal divide-and-rule policies. These policies manipulated the differences between the tribes and ensured that the unity would not exist, thereby making the easy governance of such a large country practicable.
- In 1914, the governor-general joined the North and the South, and his wife picked a name. Nigeria was born!!
- Besides, the discovery of oil makes Nigeria dependent on foreign interest.
- p322 Molière: “Unbroken happiness is not a bore; it should have ups and downs”
- p538 “Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were so lucky to have loved!!
Adichie gives a lot of facts on politics, colonisation and decolonisation, but never gives any judgement.
There is much more about the book, but then we have to tackle politics, colonisation and decolonisation issues we decided not to discuss.
“Half of a Yellow Sun opens a window upon a torn African nation, left aside by the rest of the world.
The Biafra/Nigeria war went on simultaneously with the Vietnam war. Hence little attention from the world!!
A book that will benefit everyone who is concerned with Africa.
Friday, 18 December 2020
The book had been sent to me by an English friend and I thought it would be a good read to take our minds away from the enduring pandemic.
The author is a 70+ years old zoologist and wild life scientist, a co-author of 3 bestselling non-fiction books about her 25 years of life in Africa, and had many articles published in prestigious scientific journals. This is her first novel and it topped The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2019 for 25 non-consecutive weeks.
She took 7 years to write it, using her own experience of living in isolation from humans, though hers, contrary to her novel´s character of Kya, was, and is, voluntary.
Watching the interviews with her, gives, I think, a new perspective of the story.
The place: Barkley Cove in North Californim
The mystery plot: The “Marsh Girl” Kya Clark is suspected of the murder of the handsome and popular youth Chase Andrews.
The novel has a bit of everything – mystery, romance, survival, loneliness, love and evocation of the marshlands´ fauna and flora, but the theme of survival and loneliness are the main ones, based on the author own experience, though, as mentioned before, her life in isolation was of her own choice and not, as in Kya´s case, because of family circumstances and prejudice.
I take the liberty of including Loeky´s comment, as she could not participate in our zoom meeting:
“I read "Where the Crawdads sing" and loved the book. Thanks Blanka for suggesting it.
It is obvious that Delia Owens knows nature as no other, having always lived close to nature, becoming later a wildlife zoologist and working most of her life with animals. Delia's mother used to tell her "go as far as you can where the crawdads sing". Where I think animals still behave like animals.
Delia's description of Kya's life as an outcast in a small community and her life in and from the nature is beautiful.
Kya's life teaches us how to deal with being deserted by all, living in isolation and with loneliness. And that we all can achieve more than we think we can.
I liked how the author kept up an amazing tension until the end.
The poetry is also important when Kya became knowledgeable about language and the power of reading. It changed her life!
And do you know "whodunnit"? Even knowing that one cannot take the law in one's own hand, I do understand if it is Kya "whodunnit". It was for her own survival; Chase would never have left her alone.”
Thursday, 26 November 2020
by Maggie O'Farrel
Maggie O'Farrell (born 27th May 1972) is an Irish-British novelist.
Winner of the 2020 Women’s prize for fiction, “HAMNET”, her latest book, is simply magnificent. Her immersive writing makes you live the story through her characters. One member of our group said “Maggie O’Farrel has a way with words.”
Of course, everything turns around the death of a child and that fact on its own is very affecting. But there is so much more in this book. The beautiful and poetic description of nature, an essential element in the story, the perfect rendition of the customs and ways of life in the countryside and in London in the 16th century (one of us made a link with Jordaens’s painting of a scene of everyday life at the time) and more than anything the art of making the reader feel what each protagonist feels. In fact, it is all about feelings, the feelings between twins, the bond that links them, the feeling of falling in love and of being in love, the feeling of being different and last but not least the timeless feelings of the mother and the father, so differently expressed, when faced with the heartbreaking tragedy of the loss of a child.
The group agreed on the fact that Agnes, the mother of Hamnet, is the main character of the novel. She is an indomitable free thinker. She is considered as wild, more in her element when in nature where she is able to establish contact with any animal, any plant. She is so sensitive that she can read into people’s hearts. She also is a healer and because of her empathy and her knowledge of plants, she is able to help people in pain. She is different from everybody around her but when faced with the loss of her child, she crystallises the suffering of all mothers.
“The most famous character in the novel goes unnamed; he is variously “her husband”, “the father”, “the Latin tutor” and this deliberate omission frees the narrative of all the weight of association that his name carries”. As a young man, he was considered as a good for nothing by his family. Again he is different from the other country boys, he is more like a thinker and he knows that he can only find himself if separated from his family circle. Although he really loves his wife a lot ( she is the only one who can read his heart), he has to leave the countryside and his family in order to find his own identity and later on to survive the death of his son.
Maggie O‘ Farrel tells you a story based on fact (one of Shakespeare’s son did die at the age of 11) but still this is fiction. She tells us a very touching story of a man and a woman who although very much in love with each other get separated by the death of their son because each one has to find a way to survive it. The end will see them reunited because both understand that neither of them ever forgot their lost son, reincarnated in the play “Hamlet”.
Everyone thought it was also interesting to learn how a plague virus on a flea boarded a boat in Alexandria and arrived in England on people and merchandise carried on different means of transport. And what is surprising is the fact that the book was written before the actual pandemic began.
The story goes back and forth which made things confusing for some of us but all recognised that the book was simply superbly written.
Thursday, 29 October 2020
By Colum McCann
His book is a beautiful, remarkable and important novel, a profound prayer for peace.
« APEIROGON » is based on a real-life Israeli-Palestinian friendship forged in grief.
McCann himself met both men :
Rami, the Israeli, whose 14-year-old daughter Smadar was killed by two Palestinian suicide bombers in Jerusalem.
Bassam, the Palestinian, whose 10-year-old daughter Abir was shot with a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli soldier .
In this book, never sad, the writer analyses the nature of violence and cruelty and the random nature of death.
McCann quotes Einstein ‘s moving letter to Freud asking whether it would be possible to deliver humankind from the savagery of hate and war. Freud’s answer is quite pessimistic : « There is no such likelihood …..to suppress humanity’s most aggressive tendencies. Humanity has an active instinct for hatred and destruction. »
How true those words sound nowadays !
McCann explores the lives lived on both sides of the divide between Israel and Palestine, a divide created by geography, politics, religion. He has managed in this book to create empathy for the characters and understanding of their situation.
In a narration full of humanity, he tells us how Rami and Bassam will eventually find their way to forgiveness and understanding.
« Anything that creates emotional ties between human beings inevitably counteracts war, hence this book » says McCann
This book is also rich in the many ways it refers to History, sciences, music, literature, poetry. It is also threaded through by a long meditation on birds and their migration routes fraught by peril and obstacles. Culminating with the description of Philippe Petit ‘s walk on a tight rope between East and West Jerusalem in 1987, when a white dove settled on his balancing pole. What a symbol !
The structure of the book is complex and even puzzling in the beginning : small paragraphs with seemingly no connexion between them eventually connect little by little.
The title itself refers to a complex geometric shape with a countably infinite number of sides. A metaphor for the complex Israeli-Palestinian question. So many stories of tragedies, of wars, of frustrations and despair, stretching back into the past, through the present and off into the future.
How did we feel about the book ?
We all found it beautiful, thought-provoking, full of humanity and very instructive in many aspects.
For some, it was a bit like Utopia : how can we really reconcile waring factions through understanding ?
But the world definitely needs some kind of idealism to drive us forward !
Anne Van Calster
Wednesday, 15 April 2020
Thursday, 19 March 2020
The mountain ridge of Hartz was the border between East and West Germany.