‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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BLURB: With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra’s impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.(Goodreads.com)

FAVOURITE QUOTE: ‘I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because a white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white.’

READ IF YOU LIKE: African culture, Nigerian past, African history, stories of war torn countries and families, romance, drama, and crying.

PAGE COUNT: Approx 448.

STAR RATING: (★★★★☆) – only minus one star because it takes a while to get into…but persevere!!!

What struck me most about this book when I had finished it was how little I have been educated on African conflict, and the history of the African countries; how little it has been mentioned in my Western education. I had come across British imperialism in Africa previously in school, but again, that was based around Britain, and have never experienced anything like this written from the PoV of an African, and I only realised this when reading this book. I think most people who are like me will therefore agree that therefore this is a completely eye-opening and almost life changing book.

The book is told from the perspectives of five characters. Ugwe, the young (really young it turned out) houseboy goes to work for the university professor Odenigbo, who soon marries rich Olanna. Kainene is the twin sister of Olanna who falls in love with British Richard. As the war progresses, these four totally different characters find their loves and their lives turned completely upside down. Whilst never openly criticising white people, seen through the inclusion of Richard, who attempts to immerse himself totally in Biafran culture and language, the book doesn’t take that stupid egotistical position of white superiority and pity of African people that I know centres much of white culture.

I had never even heard of Biafra, or it’s civil war that engulfed Nigeria between 1967-70, and I felt that as the reader was hit with more and more plot twists and action it got better and better, so as the book gets sadder,  its gets more gripping. After the first 100 or so pages of introduction therefore, the book its heart wrenchingly sad and affecting.

Basically, this is a treasure of a book. If you have never experienced African literture , which I certainly hadn’t, then its great, not preaching or lecturing, but never sugar coating the struggles these people went through. We’ve all seen the photos in glossy magazines, emaciated babies with distented stomachs, but as Western readers we never really get the chance to fully engage with the why’s, what’s and how’s of the situation. This book gives a narrative voice to those images, and I felt I could exactly match what Adichie writes about with images I have become used to seeing. I have come out of this book more knowledgeable and aware. I am by no means an expert now, and am not saying spending a week reading this book has made me on a level with those who experienced the Nigeria-Biafra war, but I certainly want to go and read more about it.

‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami

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BLURB/SUMMARY: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age,Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love. (Goodreads.com) 

READ IF YOU LIKE: Love stories, Japanese settings, stories with little plot

FAVOURITE QUOTE“’If you’re in pitch blackness. all you can do is sit tight until your eyes get used to the dark’”

PAGE COUNT: Approx. 389

STAR RATING: ★★★★☆ – a cult classic

Set in the 1960’s, (and yes, named after the Beatles song) it’s the story of Toru Wanatabe, reminiscing over his youth whilst at university in Tokyo. He is narrating from the future, but all the action takes place in his past. The book functions primarily as a love story, around Toru’s two main love interests. The first is Naoko, his first love who is incarcerated in a mountaintop rehabilitation centre by mental illness someway through the book. As he cannot see her, Toru spends a lot of his time pining over long lost Naoko and recalling her body and the way she looked naked (NB there are also a few sex scenes in this book which I didn’t expect). I didn’t much like Naoko, I didn’t find their love ‘heroic’ or great, or that significant, so I am surprised people describe her as the great heroine of the book, when she’s not. Other than her story just being really sad, she hadn’t even impacted me before she exited Toru’s life, so I didn’t have a strong emotional connection to her character, and much preferred Toru when he was with Midori.

Midori Kobayashi is the second woman Toru encounters, and as she is practically the opposite of Naoko, she was my favourite character. The book is infinitely better in the passages she is in. She is eclectic and enthusiastic and bouncy and fun, but you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out who Toru chooses to be with…

Above all else, this book is depressing and solemn, I didn’t feel any kind of excitement or rush when I was reading it, but more of a calm sadness. If you haven’t read Murakami then definitely read this one, it’s his most famous for a reason and gives a good insight into the classic Japanese literature (really reminded me of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) and I loved all the Japanese settings with the mountains and countrysides so will definitely be reading more Murukami, despite its depressing nature.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

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BLURB/SUMMARY: Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining (Goodreads.com)

READ IF YOU LIKE: Dystopia/adventure novels, the Chaos Walking series, trilogies, post-apocalyptic settings

PAGE COUNT: Approx 448

STAR RATING: ★★★★★ 

If you’ve read the type of other reviews I do and books I love this is exactly my thing, basically being a combination of adventure and dystopia.

Margaret Atwood is also my new literary heroine and although this is only the second book by her that I’ve written, I’ve enjoyed it hugely and now want to read everything she’s ever written. Everyone will tell you the same thing about Maragret Atwood and for a good reason, her imagination and writing style is completely unique and satisfying. The names of people and places in this book alone were inspiring and exciting. In short, it’s a post apocalyptic adventure novel told from the POV of the only surviving human, Jimmy, or Snowman. The story is told alternating between episodes where he (Snowman at this point) is naked in a hammock, wearing one lense sunglasses and eating fish surrounded by humans which aren’t really humans, and stories from his past years as Jimmy. His past, and the world that has now been destroyed consisted of ‘compounds’ in which medical science has gone slightly too far. Think GM foods, but with animals and to a pretty extreme level. It is slightly too close to home, whilst also obviously being an unimaginable situation.

I obviously can’t fill in the middle and how Jimmy came to be Snowman in an extinct world, and Atwood also (annoyingly) withholds this information until the end. Like in other dystopia novels, the protagonist is different, and in this case Jimmy/Snowman differs in that he is the only real human left in the world. Further, his cynical view on his past also sets him apart from the people in his past life. Although not completely likeable, sometimes outcast and consistently sexually driven, he is relatable as basically the only normal human in the book. So you grow to love him, albeit if this is forced upon the reader. Basically, a great book and completely my cup of tea. Bar the slightly vulgar descriptions of pornography and other teenage boy fantasies, this is a really worthwhile and easy read.

Plus, I feel like if you haven’t read Margaret Atwood before it’s a pretty easy way to start and experience her technique. Also, it’s a trilogy. I don’t know if the other two are worth a read, but certainly read this one.