If you follow my twitter stream, you may have noticed that in the last few days a few complaint tweets about the never-ending nature of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Well, it ended. This morning I finished the last fifteen pages. My book club discusses it tomorrow night, but I wanted to record my initial impressions on having finished. I’m hoping that our discussions will convince me to try it again….maybe in a decade or so. (more…)
At nearly 800 pages, The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith is overwhelming in scope. Subtitled A History of Fifty Years of Independence, the book attempts to capture the histories of all the countries on the African continent. Yet, such an ambitious subject cannot adequately be captured in less than 800 pages: each country has its own complexities. The history of the myriad of countries and people in Africa cannot be adequately explained in one book. Meredith neglected some countries’ histories while others were well drawn. In short, The Fate of Africa gave me a good grounding in some countries but left a gap in my understanding of others.
Nevertheless, I read The Fate of Africa to get a better context and understanding of the African continent today, and for that it delivered. (more…)
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (published 2006) tells the story of the Nigerian Civil War, when the minority, repressed Igbos in Southeastern Nigeria established the independent republic of Biafra.
My understanding of the war comes from my reading of the novel, but I did also reference Wikipedia. (Adichie mentions in an interview that she purposely kept it non-academic, so that is why there are few dates, no maps, and no “glossary” of terms in the novel itself.) It is often the case with fiction that you only get one side of the story. Yet in Adichie’s novel, I felt that much that was unsaid could still be understood. Half of a Yellow Sun portrayed Biafra as a patriotic solution for the racism and oppression that the Igbo dealt with, and the Biafran succession came after serious massacres of Igbos throughout the country of Nigeria.
From what I’ve read, the sad side is that Biafra’s story is one of starvation, for because of the lack of widespread international recognition, a blockade meant millions of people in Biafra were without food. Biafra’s story is one of failed uprising, for because of lack of proper supplies, the Biafran war effort was essentially doomed from the start. And Biafra’s story is about corrupted leaders, for because of the lack of truthful communication, Biafran citizens didn’t quite realize the extent of the hopelessness.
Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the North, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future. (page 352)
Half of a Yellow Sun leaves the reader with a feeling of hope for the “glorious future,” maybe not for the state of Biafra but for the essential relationships that matter, from sisterhood to the intimacy of lovers to parents and friends. In the midst of unspeakable and violent tragedy, the upper-middle class twin sisters that Adichie writes about learn to love each other again. Half of a Yellow Sun is an story of survival.
According to the tradition of the Dinka, the people who live in southern Sudan, after God created the world and the first man (a Dinka), he gave the first man a choice.
“You can have either these cattle, as my gift to you, or you can have the What,” he said.
The Dinka chose the cattle, and according to the tradition, the Arabs, who lived in Northern Sudan, were given the What. (Story found on page 62-63 of What is the What.) Valentino Achak Deng, a young boy growing up in southern Sudan, thought the What made the Arabs inferior. What could be better than cattle? But when the north begins annihilating his home town during Civil War, he, at age seven, finds himself wondering, what is the What?
What is the What (by Dave Eggers, written 2006), is the fictionalized version of Valentino’s story as he came to maturity during a Sudanese civil war. Narrated in first person, it tells of his survival amid incredible tribulation. Because he was away from the village when the military attacks on his village came, he was able to escape both capture and assassination. Thus, at age seven, he began walking, and soon found a group of other boys likewise walking through the southern Sudanese deserts and jungles. Together, they avoided hungry lions and suffered extreme starvation. Boys died daily through the thousand-mile walk. Their destination was a refugee camp in Ethiopia.