Review – Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Review – Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

‘This had made Edward think of the ways of leaving: through doors, windows, in cars, on bikes, trains, boats, planes. Leaving was different than what his family had done. Leaving was a choice.’

Summary:

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano tells the story of a deadly plane crash which kills all 187 passengers save from a 12-year-old boy. Inspired by the true story of the 9-year-old Dutch boy who was the sole survivor of the Afriqiyah Airlines 771 crash in 2010, the story jumps back and forth in time between the hours preceding the crash and the aftermath. In the wake of the crash, Edward struggles to come to terms with the tragic deaths of his parents and older brother, the reason for his survival, and his newfound fame.  

My Review:

The chapters are split between those on the plane which are narrated by various passengers on-board, and the chapters set after the crash which are told solely from Edward’s perspective. I did find that the chapters on the plane jumped between narrators a bit too much sometimes (the narrator would shift within a matter of paragraphs rather than having a chapter dedicated solely to their story), but Napolitano’s structure was also clever in that it helped build up an emotional connection with all of the victims.

What struck me most about the chapters on the plane was the overwhelming sense of foreboding that Napolitano created, with various characters either reminiscing on regrets from their past or dreaming about their future achievements. I wasn’t overwhelmingly emotional when reading, but I don’t think that was Napolitano’s intent, moreover, she encourages us to think about the fleetingness of life and making the most of everyday.

The lead up to the crash builds gradually throughout the book and the short chapters in the latter half of the novel which comprise of one or two pages made for a really tense read. I had a really awful feeling in my stomach the entire time I was reading these passages and felt so helpless knowing the inevitable but being unable to prevent it.

Edward has some really intense flashbacks to the crash which are sometimes triggered by the smallest noise or movement. Napolitano narrated the long-term effects of grief and trauma with beautiful sensitivity and tenderness, for example, the repetitive clicking sound Edward constantly hears which reminds him of the noise of a metronome and consequently pulls him back into the memory of playing the piano with his brother. Napolitano scattered subtle references to Edward’s grief throughout the novel, eloquently demonstrating how loss manifests itself in all aspects of our existence.

A life-affirming read, which also left me feeling hopeful and profoundly grateful for my loved ones. Dear Edward is a stunning story about loss, friendship, and survival with a heart-warming message at its core: healing is hard, but we are never alone in this battle.

Star Rating: 4/5

June Reads Wrap-Up

June Reads Wrap-Up

I don’t know about you, but June just seemed to fly by! I can’t believe we’re already half-way through 2020! Although this has been a tough year for many of us, if there’s one good thing to come out of a world pandemic (and my perpetual unemployment) it’s the amount of free time it creates – and when I say free time, I really mean reading time.

I managed to read seven physical books in June (pictured above) and listen to two audiobooks which is the most I’ve read out of any month this year! I’m not one to be competitive about reading, but I really don’t expect this trend to continue when I eventually land myself a job haha!

My first read of the month was Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce, and if you read my review you’ll know it was a bit of a disappointing start to June. I really wanted to love it because I’d seen so much hype surrounding the thriller on Bookstagram, but it was just too slow for me.

Luckily, my second read of the month was an absolute stand-out! Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was absolutely stunning and provided a harrowing look at the impact of the Nigerian Civil War. I can’t wait to get my hands on my next Adichie novel!

Thirdly, I re-read Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and I loved this short novel even more on my second time reading. An absolute modern classic which I would recommend everyone to read.

My next read was Weather by Jenny Offill which I had been eager to read for a long time. Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, this quirky little read really stands out as one of my favourite reads this month.

Next, I read The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos. This whodunnit mystery story was really unique, and I loved the idea of a library dedicated to rejected manuscripts. I’m excited to see what else will be released in the Walter Presents series.

My penultimate read of the month was another highly anticipated read, Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Written in the form of an interview transcript, this book is every music lovers dream. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book! 100% worth the hype!

My final physical read of the month was Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. A deeply sad read which really moved me, but was also really gripping and suspenseful. I’ll have a full review up for this one later on in the week!

June has also been interesting as I have really gotten into audiobooks after not listening to one for years! A friend on Bookstagram recommended Scribd to me and I received a free 60 day trial. During this period, I have listened to Lanny by Max Porter and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Audiobooks seem to be a really easy way to up your reading each month, and I found myself listening to my audiobook when I got ready in the morning and then tucking into my physical book in the evening. As I’ve said in previous posts, I’m going to do a full blog on my experience with my Scribd trial so I’ll go into more detail then.

To finish off this post, I’ll leave you with my star ratings…

Blood Orange – 2/5

Half of a Yellow Sun – 4/5

Giovanni’s Room – 5/5

Weather – 4/5

The Mystery of Henri Pick – 3.5

Daisy Jones & The Six – 5/5

Dear Edward – 4/5

Lanny – 5/5

The Nickel Boys 4/5

A bit of a mixed bunch, both in terms of genre and star ratings, but a great month overall! Have you read any of these? What was your favourite June read? And what is your most anticipated July read?

Happy reading!

Em x

Review – Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Review – Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

‘You can’t love someone back to health and you can’t hate someone back to health and no matter how right you are about something, it doesn’t mean they will change their mind.’

Summary:

Daisy Jones & The Six encapsulates everything you’d expect from a book about the music scene in the 1970s; sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Written in the form of an interview transcript, we hear from each of the seven members of the fictitious rock band Daisy Jones & The Six (was anyone else slightly gutted that they weren’t a real band after finishing the book?). Following the band as they embark on world tours and gain global recognition, we are given a raw and often painful look into the personal lives of those who give up everything for their love of music.

My Review:

Although we hear from all of the band members, the two main protagonists are Billy, the egotistical ex-addict and front man of The Six, and Daisy Jones, a free spirited, reckless and beautiful singer-songwriter who joins the band for their second album. Daisy’s characterisation was truly incredible, and everything down to the fashion she wears, her insistence to be barefooted wherever she goes, and her refusal to follow instructions was perfect; Daisy is a feminist beacon amongst a male-dominated music industry.

Billy and Daisy’s fractious relationship was fraught with tension, and there were some really honest and dark conversations between the pair as they battled against their inner demons. Tackling topics such as addiction and adultery, Reid doesn’t shy away from revealing the dangers of hedonism. Exposing the toxic underbelly of the music industry, Billy and Daisy’s personal battles with substance abuse were truthful without ever glamorising or encouraging their lifestyle.

Whilst Billy and Daisy are no doubt the stars of this story, Reid does a fantastic job of creating a fully fleshed-out and dynamic group of characters who make up the remainder of the band. The characters of Karen, the band’s keyboardist who was not afraid to speak her mind, and Camila, Billy’s wife who delivered some brutal home truths, sent such a strong message of female empowerment. In an industry which is notorious for its sexualisation and exploitation of women, the stories of these two women alongside that of Daisy’s were refreshing and inspirational.

I’ve seen a few people mention that they weren’t a fan of the writing style, but I absolutely loved it – it was like watching a documentary about my favourite band! I thought that it was especially interesting (and sometimes incredibly amusing) when each band member gave a differing account of the same event. Reid really got me thinking about the status of ‘celebrity’ and how the media has the ability to manipulate a celebrity’s reputation for a public story.

Although a little predictable at times, Daisy Jones & The Six 100% lived up to the hype and I couldn’t put it down. If you’re a fan of music biopics such as Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, then I think you’ll love this one.

Star Rating: 5/5

Have you read Daisy Jones & The Six or any of Taylor Jenkin Reid’s other books? I’m thinking I’ll have to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo next! Let me know if you’ve read either of them!

Happy reading!

Em x

Review- The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos

Review- The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos

‘Readers always find themselves in a book, in one way or another. Reading is a completely egotistical pleasure. Unconsciously we expect books to speak to us.’

Summary:

Translated from French and set in France, The Mystery of Henri Pick follows the events that proceed a young editors discovery of a literary masterpiece in a library established for writers to leave their manuscripts that have been rejected by publishers. The name on the manuscript reads ‘Henri Pick’, but not everyone’s convinced he’s the author behind this literary sensation…

My Review:

This whodunnit mystery story was a really charming little read, and the first book published in the Walter Presents series which is dedicated to translating books into English and ‘champion[ing] brilliant drama from around the world.’ From just seeing the front cover design and reading the blurb, it is obvious that this is a book for bibliophiles and those fascinated by the publishing process. There were no end of really beautiful quotes about the act of reading and the purpose of literature, and Foenkinos was particularly critical of the 21st century as a literary era.

Foenkinos narrated the thoughts of book lovers everywhere, and there were some really beautiful passages where he wrote deftly on the power of words, reading as a form of escapism, and the power of the imagination. Whilst Foenkinos seemed to imply that literature and a love of reading is of paramount importance, he also speaks of the danger of publication and the fame which follows success.

Some of the most fascinating chapters were those narrated by the wife and daughter of Henri Pick, and the discussion around the corruption of their privacy following the worldwide success of Pick’s novel. Unaware that Pick had ever written a novel, the family members he left behind were forced to come to terms with the fact that he was a different man than they thought they knew. Foenkinos encouraged me to consider who’s role it is to tell someone else’s story and consider the ethics around profiting off someone else’s success.

Foenkinos presents us with a large cast of characters and the novel felt a little bit like a soap-opera at times due to the constant jumps in narrator and storylines which felt a little irrelevant, however, the plot did hold my attention for the duration of the book. In terms of the actual revelation surrounding the identity of the author at the end of the novel, I felt it was a little rushed, but I was truly shocked by the plot twist – I didn’t see it coming at all.

Overall, this was a really charming and easy read which took a completely different approach to the whodunnit mystery genre. The book really had me thinking deeply about the changing purpose of literature in our society, and whether the truth is sometimes better kept hidden; a self-reflexive examination of the publishing industry. Definitely one which is bound to stir up a wealth of emotions in book lovers everywhere.

Star Rating: 4/5

Would you visit a library full of rejected manuscripts?

Em x

Review – Weather by Jenny Offill

Review – Weather by Jenny Offill

Summary:

Following our protagonist Lizzie, a librarian and unofficial shrink, we are given an astute and observant look into both Lizzie’s own world and her greater, global concern for the demise of humanity. Responding to mail from fellow concerned individuals, the novel tackles an impressive host of themes predominantly climate change and the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.

My Review:

Weather was my third read from the Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2020, and quite unlike anything I have ever read before.A clever play on words, Offill’s title makes reference not only to ‘weather’ as a noun (in relation to climate change), but also to ‘weather’ as a verb (meaning to ‘weather out’ a period of hardship, in this case, both domestic and political turmoil).

Written in a narrative structure which comprises of a succession of little vignettes, the narrative jumps about between a fairly random account of various events and internal thoughts of our protagonist, Lizzie. I was unsure how I would get on with reading a novel written in vignettes, but I am absolutely converted. I loved the chatty writing style and found myself completely swept up by Offill’s beautiful syntax.

I completely devoured Weather in a 24-hour period and actually had to force myself to slow down at times to make sure that I was really taking in the complexity of the novel’s themes. If you’re somebody who loves a plot-driven narrative I don’t think you should be put off by the narrative structure of this one, whilst it does jump around a lot and feel quite random at times, there are recurring plot threads throughout which kept me on my toes.  

What I was most struck by when reading this novel, however, was Offill’s preoccupation with climate change. I have never known a novel to tackle the global climate change crisis in quite the same way. Offill seamlessly blends together her dry, witty humour with moments of absolute clarity and fear about the ever-present global warming crisis. Lizzie has frequent frenzied conversations in which she voices her anxiety for the future of the human race, making a mental plan for the location of her doomstead where herself and her family can safely ride out the world’s impending doom.

A beautiful, quirky little novel which voices a plethora of existential crises varying in severity, from crises in our personal life through to the global challenges which face each and every one of us on a daily basis. Upon finishing the novel I was left with an uneasy feeling about the future, but also found myself feeling that I could just pick it up and read it all over again. My only criticism of Weather is that it’s too short – I didn’t want it to end!

Star Rating: 4/5

Have you read Weather or any others on the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist? Which one was your favourite? Let me know in the comments!

Em x

WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday

Happy Wednesday everybody! Where has this last week gone?! It’s flown by! Already it’s time for my second WWW Wednesday post! I enjoyed writing this so much last week, and it was so lovely to have such a warm welcome from fellow WWW Wednesday bloggers – bookish people really are the best aren’t they?

“What is WWW Wednesday?” I hear you ask…

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, which simply involves answering the following Three Ws every week:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?


So, without further ado, let’s get started!

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos. Now, if you missed my post last week (how dare you!), I was debating whether to read this or Daisy Jones & The Six next but in the end I was in the mood for a good mystery story and so choose Henri Pick – and I’m so glad I did! It’s quite a quirky little read and really unlike anything I’ve ever read before, I’ve never known a book which is so preoccupied with the pleasure of reading. Briefly, the story follows Delphine, a young editor, who tries to discover the mysterious author of a literary masterpiece discovered in a library dedicated to manuscripts rejected by publishers. I’ll have a full review up when I’ve finished!

I’m also listening to the audiobook of The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead which is based on a true story about a reform school in Jim-Crow era Florida. Quite a difficult listen at times, but very powerful – I’m hoping to get a full blog post up soon reviewing the audiobooks I’ve listened to recently and talking about my free trial of Scribd (an audiobook subscription service).

What did you recently finish reading?

At the weekend, I finished reading Weather by Jenny Offill. I sped through this short novel in a 24-hour period and absolutely loved it. Again, it was quite a quirky read, and whilst some people might be put off by the narrative structure which comprises of a succession of little vignettes, I thought the chatty narrative was really great! My full review will be up in the next couple of days.

I’ve also just finished listening to the audiobook of Lanny by Max Porter. This was the first audiobook I’ve listened to in years and I really enjoyed it! I’ve wanted to read Lanny for ages after seeing such high praise for Max Porter’s writing, and was slightly dubious that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate his beautiful poetic style in full through the medium of an audiobook, but I was pleasantly surprised. The chapters in which we hear the cacophony of voices in the rural village where Lanny lives with his parents were beautifully done and so very effective. I would be interested in seeing how the audiobook compares to reading these chapters because I’ve heard a few people say they’ve found the multiple voices confusing (let me know in the comments if you have anything to say on this). I’ll go into Lanny in a bit more detail when I publish my audiobooks blog (soon!).

What are you planning on reading next?

Why is this question always so hard?! I have too much choice!!! But… I think it’ll have to be Daisy Jones & The Six. I’ve seen only high praise for this all over Bookstagram, and so many of you commented on my last WWW Wednesday post and said that you loved it. It also sounds like the perfect read for all of this sunny weather we have lined-up in the UK over the next week!

What are you reading this week?

Happy reading!

Em x

Review – Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Review – Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

‘And these nights were being acted out under a foreign sky, with no-one to watch, no penalties attached – it was this last fact which was our undoing, for nothing is more unbearable, once one has it, than freedom.’

Summary:

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin was considered a revolutionary homosexual and bisexual novel when first published in 1956. Baldwin also came under criticism for writing a ‘raceless’ novel which contained no Black characters when he himself was a young Black man. The entire novel is told by the protagonist David, a White American man, on the night that he awaits the execution of Giovanni, the man whom he had a passionate affair with in Paris just a few months earlier.

My Review:

Baldwin deftly writes on topics of homosexuality, bisexuality, heteronormativity, gender, social isolation, masculinity, freedom, and open and closed spaces. The novel centres around a group of characters whom all fail to meet the supposed norms of society in the 1950s, characters who are all running from themselves in search of their true identity but always fall short of finding it. David has fled America and life with his father for Paris in search of himself; Giovanni has left Italy after a failed relationship and too sought refuge in Paris; and Hella (David’s girlfriend) has travelled to Spain to try and work out what she wants from her relationship with David.

The irony of the novel, however, is that no matter how hard they all search for freedom, none of them can ever find it. They are all magnetised to each other and to Paris in some way and are in a constant internal battle between seeking independence and admitting the need for co-dependency. Each character seeks to discover their selfhood, yet, when they come face-to-face with it, they retire back to the safety of heteronormativity; freedom and fear are irrevocably intertwined. Even Giovanni, who seems much more comfortable with his sexuality than David is, fears rejection of his true self and is ensnared by the psychological damage of his past.

Baldwin’s lyrical passages are enviable, and I found myself taking continual notes as I read. His writing is so beautiful I could honestly quote the entire novel to you. Baldwin writes about 1950s Paris in two extremes, highlighting its’ beauty whilst simultaneously exposing the debauched undertones of the city. The chapters in which we are told about David and Giovanni’s first meeting in the gay bar where Giovanni works were my favourite, and Baldwin’s poetic writing brings the electric chemistry between the pair to life so much that I felt like I had witnessed the start of their relationship first-hand.

Baldwin captures emotions which are innate in all of us, our simultaneous desire to be loved which is juxtaposed by our fear of falling in love. David is acutely aware of this juxtaposition of emotions throughout the novel, and there are several moments where it is as if he were watching himself through the eyes of another, obsessive and paranoid about how society perceives his relationship with Giovanni. Ultimately, however, Baldwin teaches his readers that adhering to societal conventions whilst ignoring our true self will only end in misery.

Tender, empathetic and heart-wrenching, this short novel really packs a punch.

Star Rating: 5/5

What’s your favourite modern classic? Let me know in the comments!

Em x

My First WWW Wednesday Post!

My First WWW Wednesday Post!

Good morning everyone! I’ve been thinking for a while that I want to start taking part in a weekly meme because I’ve seen so many around and they look like such a fun way to engage with fellow book bloggers! After having a look at all of the different bookish memes, I’ve decided to take part in WWW Wednesday and I’m so excited to get started!

“What is WWW Wednesday?” I hear you ask…

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, which simply involves answering the following Three Ws every week:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

So, without further ado, let’s get started!

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Weather by Jenny Offill which I was lucky enough to win in a recent giveaway on Instagram! I’d been eying up Weather for a few months after seeing so many glowing reviews for it on Bookstagram, so I knew that I had to choose it as my winning book from the giveaway! I’ve also set myself the challenge of trying to read every book on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2020, and after reading Girl, Woman, Other and Hamnet this was next on my list. More of my thoughts to follow when I’ve finished this one and written my review (watch this space).

I am also listening to the audiobook of Lanny by Max Porter. I have wanted to read this book for ages, so when a fellow Bookstagrammer recommended a free trial of Scribd (an audiobook subscription service) and I saw Lanny was on there I immediately downloaded it. It’s relatively short in terms of audiobooks as well (under 5 hours) so is perfect to listen to alongside my reading Weather.

What did you recently finish reading?

Last night, I finished re-reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. For those who don’t know, Giovanni’s Room follows the story of the romantic relationship between Giovanni and David in Paris in 1950 as both grapple with their sexual identity. I first read Baldwin’s revolutionary novel back when I was about 17 (for reference I’m now 23) when I choose to use the text as the inspiration behind my creative writing piece for my AS Level English Literature coursework, but as its’ Pride Month I was keen to give it a re-read. I have to admit, I really couldn’t remember much about this one, but I was blown away. Not only is this novel considered ground-breaking in the fact that it was so taboo when first published, but Baldwin’s writing style is truly enviable. I could honestly quote the entire book to you it’s that beautiful.

What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m really undecided on this one because I’ve gone a bit overboard with ordering books recently so I have a lot of choice (the book buying ban starts now…). I’m thinking either Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid which I have seen a lot of hype for on Bookstagram and am really eager to read, or The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos. I hadn’t really heard of this one before I ordered it, but stumbled across it on Waterstones and was really intrigued. A translated French text, it is described as a mystery story ideal for bibliophiles. I’ve also just seen it’s been made into a film as well which I didn’t know about! Let me know which one you think I should read next in the comments below!

What are you reading this week?

Em x

Review – Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Review – Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Summary:

Part historical novel, part fiction, Hamnet is a stunning lament for the loss of a world-famous playwrights’ only son. It is an emotionally devastating account of a family’s grief for the little boy whose name would – 4 years later – inspire one of the greatest plays of all time. 

My Review:

Transporting her readers back to the Jacobean era, O’Farrell jumps back and forth between a series of events which occurred both before and after the death of Hamnet. The story traces the origins of one of Britain’s most infamous families, beginning with the unlikely marriage between a shoemaker’s son and a mistress who is outcast by both her family and the town’s inhabitants. Following their successes and downfalls, the readers watch the family grow and gain insight into their everyday lives; although, of course, this is no ordinary family.

O’Farrell delights with extraordinary lyrical passages which cast a magical spell over her readers, completely immersing them in her Jacobean world. Her depiction of the unbreakable bond shared between twins was breath-taking, and I could hardly bear to read the passage in which we see Hamnet curl up next to his dying sister before he sacrifices himself so that she may live on in his place. Similarly, I was devastated by passage which detailed the realisation of the boy’s father that he had arrived too late to save his only son. The tension was palpable as he surveyed the room, tallying up which of his family members were still alive, and which one had been stolen from his close-knit family unit. This passage was truly heart-stopping, and I found myself holding my own breath with the rest of the family as I waited for his moment of realisation.

Yet O’Farrell’s deft control of her craft never faltered, and each page had an indescribable calmness to it even in the midst of the most earth-shattering events. Of particular note was the chapter devoted to the journey of the flea which brought the plague to England and bore the responsibility of Hamnet’s untimely death. O’Farrell brought dignity and beauty to death whilst never concealing the raw emotiveness of the subject.

Hamnet is not another novel dedicated simply to praising the great Bard. Whilst O’Farrell does not dismiss his undeniable talent as one of the world’s greatest playwrights, she sheds light on his personal life and explores the intricacies of his failings. It is not until much later in his career, when he buys his family the largest house in Stratford-Upon-Avon, that he gains the respect of his neighbours, yet he can still never make-up for his failings as a father and husband.

The playwright is not the star of this novel, however, his wife is. I absolutely adored the character of Agnes; she is a strong-minded, defiant woman who will do anything to protect her children. The backstory into her unusual upbringing, and her knowledge of botany and the use of medicinal plants gave Agnes her own talents; she was a person in her own right and was not simply an accessory to her husband tucked away in the countryside. O’Farrell never once alludes to the identity of Agnes’ husband, and this only reinforces her dominance in the narrative. O’Farrell refused to place Agnes’ husband on a pedestal as so many before have done, and for the first time, he seemed not too dissimilar from any other flawed human being.

Hamnet gave a voice to Agnes, a woman whose story (much like her son’s) is far too often over-looked and forgotten. O’Farrell’s novel was all at once dazzling and devastating, and the story of this family will stay with me for a very long time. My favourite on the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist so far, absolutely outstanding.

Star Review: 5/5

Which book is your favourite on the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 shortlist? Let me know in the comments below!

Em x

Review – Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Review – Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Summary:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie follows the interwoven lives of three primary characters during the Nigerian Civil War in which the Igbo people fought for the secession of the state of Biafra. Jumping backwards and forwards over a decade long time period, the narrative moves between Olanna who lives with her revolutionary lover Odenigbo, Ugwu their houseboy, and Richard a White English writer whose lover is Kainene (Olanna’s twin sister).

My Review:

This is a lengthy novel, and I’ll admit that it took me a while to get through because I had to keep pausing my reading whilst I reminded myself of a certain character or googled the timeline of the civil war (I am ashamed to say I had never heard of the Nigerian Civil War before this novel). Whilst at times I did find myself a little overwhelmed and my concentration did wane at certain points (particularly in the earlier half of the novel), the sheer expanse of the timescale of the novel allowed me to get to know Adichie’s characters as if they were my own family; I too became interwoven with their narratives.

This is a largely character-driven novel, and whilst the topic at hand is a war which ravaged an entire country, Adichie cleverly directs our attention to a small group of characters who are all effected by the war in various ways. Their lives become a microcosm to understand the war through, and Adichie provides her readers with an insular look at the damaging consequences of war on individual families and their communities.

I enjoyed Olanna’s chapters the most and particularly loved the representation of both Olanna and Kainene as figures of female empowerment. Both sisters reject stereotypes of the patriarchy and Adichie promotes marriage as a pragmatic choice which is not necessary for a woman to be respected or successful. In fact, as the war progressed in the latter half of the novel it is the two sisters who have the most active input during the war effort, and Odenigbo and Richard as academics become largely ineffectual.

The novel is fraught with political debates between Odenigbo, Olanna, Richard and their fellow academics, however, what struck me most during these conversations was the eavesdropping of Ugwu. Ugwu is fascinated by the English language and frequently idolises Olanna and Odenigbo for their ability to speak the language of their White oppressors. More broadly, Adichie uses these conversations to provide a commentary which critiques the White washing of the education system and the colonisation of storytelling. This was most aptly shown through Richard’s realisation about his role as a Westerner in post-colonial Africa.

Half of a Yellow Sun was a difficult novel to read at times, and I felt this discomfort more astutely as a White woman who feels apologetic for my own ignorance. Adichie forced me to address my own White privilege and gave me a harrowing but completely necessary history lesson, and for that I will forever be grateful. I implore everyone to read this novel.

Star Review: 4/5

Which Adichie novel should I read next?

Em x