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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Monday, January 29, 2007

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN

At 6a.m l staggered out of my room, tears pouring down my cheeks, my eyes reddened by lack of sleep and hot tears. My daughter bounds into my room and leaps on my bed, giving me her usual sideways hug, she says e kaa ro mama and beginning to prattle on about our planned day out. Then she must have sensed my despondence because she looked at my hastily wiped face and asked in alarm, mummy why are you crying?

I automatically did what parents have been doing for centuries, l lied to protect her innocence, l said oh, something got in my eye and it is hurting me. She looked at me in disbelief and said but why are you sad? I said, well l spent all night reading this book and the story is around the Nigerian Civil war, which was very sad. She looked as though she’ll let that go for a second then pipes up, what means civil war mummy? I was stumped, how does one explain insanity to a five year old?

Years before she was born, her dad, my friend Segun told me a haunting story. He grew up in the ethnically diverse and vibrant pre civil war Jos. His friends were Igbo and Hausa children with whom he ran barefoot in the street playing games. People whose parents and homes were like his. One day as he set out on his way to school, the world changed, his schoolboy senses felt the pogrom before he saw it. As he walked his usual route to school, the streets were empty save the many copses lying around. Decapitated bodies of his little friends, their parents, their siblings, their relatives. He walked on in a daze and as he turned into a street, he lost his youth. Right there a mob was stoning a very fair skinned Igbo boy. He thought he recognized the boy, a neighbour and was confused as to why he was being stoned by his old friends and neighbours. He saw as the stones sank holes into the boy’s fair beautiful skin, as the blood oozed even as the boy begged for his life. Segun told me that what he would never forget was the look of disbelief that never left the fair boy’s face even as he went limp and silent. Nobody touched Segun or his family, he was Yoruba.
To underscore the extent of the ethnic cleansing that preceded the civil war, he told me that his school St. Murumba lost so many children either to the massacre or the mass East bound exodus and the eventual war that there were only about thirteen children left in his year.

Before Segun’s story the political upheaval of the 60s and the war had always seemed benign to me. I was born after the war and aside the stories of my fair skinned Igbo looking Yoruba dad being hassled here and there in Lagos, the Biafran experience was just a blip in the on going Nigerian story.

That has changed; it changed after l read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel HALF OF A YELLOW SUN. l confess to a deep admiration and genuine fondness for the work and person of Chimamanda. Once in a rare while on my job l come across a sterling mind against which l can sharpen my under utilized interviewing skills. I fell in love with her after my first interview. Her amazing clarity of mind, mischievous twinkle in the eye and curl to the mouth, that knowingness about her. That such a young, female person from Nsukka writes with such mastery, such wisdom, such creativity and brutal beauty brings a song to my heart.

HALF OF AYELLOW SUN is a work of fiction but we are live in the fiction. That is why l couldn’t put it down till the break of dawn, that is why l look at the Igbo a little differently and why l have started buying up as many books on the civil war as l can to read. I cried because so much of the underlying issues are unchanged and because all around us in Nigeria and all over Africa, the world is still silent when they die.

17 comments:

Uche said...

I'm yet to read her book, but i have read her many short stories online, and i agree with you, she's a captivating mind/person.

And yeah, one of the reasons why i haven't read it, aside for waiting for it to go on sale on Barnes and Noble(Cheap i know!, is that i didn't want to get the same reaction as u did. I feel like it will make/force me to challenge the way i feel about Nigeria and i don't want to. I guess i'm in denial.

BTW, i saw Tears of the Sun, which was an attempt to portray the civil war, with the American hero twist, i WEPT then at the theater too.....

All this bloodshed in naija, will it ever get better(I say better cos 'Stop' i think is a far fetched word.)

Once again, i admire ur strenght and drive and it inspires me. Keep up the good work, and never stop asking questions!

OmoIbadan said...

I am Delta Igbo, born in Ibadan, I speak better yoruba than I speak than I speak Igbo, My mom speaks a mixture of Yoruba and Igbo to us, My father speaks Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo. So whenever this ethnic music begins to play, I wonder if its because of ignorance or its just a pure case of "Its the devil", I have read many books on the Civil war especially the ones authored by Fredrick Forsythe and Alexandar Madiebo, and i have come to a conclusion that a strong cabal was very happy to make sure that things went that bad, and the spin-off is what we are experiencing today, where I cant even contest for the position of Janitor in I badan where I ws born without an Adedibu sending thugs after me....Omo Yibo ni.."e shey leshe"....very sad.
It was nice coming across you on bloggopia, I watched u on TV when i was still naija, and honestly I marvel at ur unique beauty carried by that slim figure....its all good, more smoothness to thine voice.

laspapi said...

Funmilola,
one gets a fresh perspective of the war (as you have) when one reads literature from igbo writers about it.

One of the most striking is Chukwuemeka Ike's "Sunset at Dawn", I'll find that for you if it hasn't been stolen off my shelf yet. There's also "the Reluctant Rebel" by Fola Oyewole, a Yoruba Officer that fought on the Biafran side (like Victor Banjo) and a couple of other books I own.

It's remarkable that 'Half of a Yellow Sun' was written by someone born after the war.

Its a road this country must never walk again.

Ike Anya said...

Thanks for this, Funmi. I'm Igbo and when I read Half of a Yellow Sun, this is what I'd hoped it would do- explain to my numerous non-Igbo friends why it was important to remember Biafra and to learn more about the war from various perspectives.

On a different note- you're right- the world is still silent in Darfur and on the streets of Lagos- while they die

Nyemoni said...

Half of a yellow sun opened my eyes to the reality of the civil war.. I had heard stories from my parents who were in Port Harcout when the civil war broke, but I saw it through the eyes of an Igbo man. It's indeed sad that human beings can behave like babarians for such a trifle as Ethnicity. I mean what does one's tribe matter?? I felt Ms. Adichie's mastery in penmanship when I read this book as well... truly she's rarely gifted. She writes like one from another age.

Eminie said...

I can imagine ! My father works in the north and in 1999 when crisis broke out, He was there ! He slept in his office for 2 days , his clerk lost two children and the story goes one ! it was really nightmarish !!!
I really pray for a Better and ONE Nigeria

dupe olorunjo said...

I have been postponing my decision to get a copy of half of a yello sun. But your review has made me see I can't delay any longer. Have a nice day

Folabi said...

I saw adverts of this book on the London underground, and hadn't given it much thought till now. I'll have to get a copy now

Chima said...

Dear Funmi,
If my wife could get hold of you, you probably would not be alive today given how crazy I tend to be about you(just kidding). But I do love you and your whole attitude to life, so brave and confident of who and what you are. I wasn't particularly surprised by your recation to the Adichie book though I have yet laid hands on it to read. But I can say the having read her Purple Hibiscus and seen hundreds of reviews of Yellow Sun, it was inevitable that people would end up reacting nearly as well as you did. One Asian blogger actually confessed she was left numb and totally helpless after the last page with the death of Kainene. That's what powerful literature does to and I bet Adichie's objectives have been fully realised, i.e to keep people from forgetting about the terribleness of it all.

Chima said...

Funmi,
Thanks again for another straight from the guts opinion about something of significance to your audience. I have always thought that you're such a brave and classy lady who's so confident of who and what you are and are unwilling to offer apologies for it. I have not yet read Yellow Sun but I certainly will because in addition to your blog comments I think Adichie, juding by her Purple Hibiscus, is both a great talent stylistically as well as an informed and issues-orieted lady.

gbemi said...

"Where were they when we died?"

That line still haunts me today.

I confess to being a bit 'tribalistic' before reading this book. This is probably because everyone around me always seemed a bit wary of the Ibos and I thought it was the thing to ostracize them as well. Reading Half of a yellow sun has definately exposed the ugly face of ethnic intolerance and I hope to God nothing like that ever happens again.

Ms Iyanda I must say I've been a fan since I read an interview on you in a magazine during my holiday to Nigeria. I see in you a lot of traits I possess as well. I have always been an opinionated girl and its reassuring to see an African woman who also speaks her mind so faultlessly. Keep being who you are, its absolutely refreshing!

NaijaBabe said...

That was a touching and well-written book, i felt as tho i was there. I cant imagine what ppl that experienced it live went thru. God dey o

Anonymous said...

I just read half a yellow sun and like many ibos, i grew up on tales about the war.
listening to my mom and aunt recall the war, hiding in the bushes when ever they hear a war plane, starvation, walking for miles each day to get to the relief center for food, seeing corpses everywhere, having thier livelihood snatched from them, haunts me till today. I cried and laughed with this book,very well written, thought provoking and makes me wonder when we will put an end to tribalism.
I still weep over the stories my parents tell me...

Deola said...

Half Of A Yellow Sun is a brilliant piece by Chimananda, which captures the inhumanity which the civil war was.The book takes one through the horror of the war and its impart on the Igbo poeple and the Nigerian society at large.A horror which the average Igbo man and the Nigerian society is yet to recover from.However,to get a more detailed picture of the callouseness that is inherent in the Nigerian leaders-General Yakubu Gowon- during the war,please, do read Featus Iyayi's Heroes to find out more.To chimananda,I say keep up the good work.

Adunni said...

I just read half of a yellow sun and i was moved by the story. I really admire her story telling skills. She writes a great story. Eve though half of a yellow sun is fiction, it's about a time that happened in our country. I'd read a few books on he civil war but i never really understood the war until i read Half of a yellow sun. For me she put a face on the war. The face of people who believed in a dream, fought so hard and suffured so much for it only to have those dreams shattered.
Unfortunately like u said Its sad to look around and find that those issues that precipitated the war are still soo so much in place. I read tears of a yellow sun and i wondered with tears in my eye were my country is heading to,

Anonymous said...

The book has kept me up throughout the night.It brings tears to my eyes snd i wonder how the world could fold theirs arms and see a small state suffer, yet do nothing. I am glad I was not born during/before the war and I pray to the good Lord , we never experience such calamity again in Nigeria.War brings just pain,bitterness and poverty.

Iyaeto said...

Funmi I'm saving this book to read on my trip to 9ja in July but now I don't thin I can wait that long. It took an orange award for us to buy/read Chi's books.