I have mixed feelings about this novel. I have been hearing amazing things about her book Americanah, and my local library only had this one in. So I really went into this book completely blind; I basically grabbed a book by the author and went with it. If I remember right I probably looked up the rating on Goodreads as usual, but plot wise….no clue. I wouldn’t say that it helped or harmed really. It isn’t full of suspense (where I would recommend going in blind), but you don’t need to know much back story to get into it.
The book is focused around three main characters : Ugwu, a house boy for a university professor; Olanna, who left her life to live with the professor in a small town; and finally Richard, who moved from England to write and fell for Olanna’s twin sister. The book goes back and forth between the early sixties to the late sixties. The book is looking at the Biafran war in Nigeria in the late sixties from the view point of the civilians. The early sixties is looking at the characters before the war, and showing how their lives are all intertwined. The late sixties is what the people went through during the wars entirety.
Okay, so now for the review part. I’m going to start with what I liked about the book, which was a lot to be honest. I found the characters to be well written, they were real to me. No one was perfect: they were all actually pretty flawed, but I’m pretty sure that’s the point. I really liked the different points of view the story was told from, starting with my favourite: Ugwu, he is thirteen in the early sixties where the book starts, and is a house boy to Odenigbo. There was a lot of innocence in this boy at the beginning, and I rally enjoyed seeing the story from someone who was basically looking in. What he saw was while he was serving and cleaning, not always directly with the other characters. Ugwu starting off at what I would consider a pivotal age. He went through a lot of changes, he was maturing at the same time his country was undergoing some major changes. This story being written in a very different time from when I was raised, as well as culturally very different, made the women’s stories very intriguing for me. Olanna was basically considered a mistress, a new relationship starting off the the book, then putting their new lives through a civil war. There are very different expectations for women in the novel from what I have ever experienced. It was enlightening to read about how they were affected differently from the men. The last character I felt the book was centred around: Richard, the english writer, who seemed in a little over his head. He started out in a completely different world from what he had been used to. He jumped in with two feet, and just decided to experience the country in all it’s entirety, with the Nigerian woman he had fallen for. Richard was a writer looking for inspiration, and ended up falling in love with a country that was going through a struggle leading to a war.
To be honest I knew literally nothing about the Biafran war, I didn’t even knew it happened let alone what it was about or what the people went through and their fight for normalcy. Although this book as written about a war, it didn’t touch on the war itself for the most part. It was really focused on what the people were going through and how it changed them. Every person was affected in many different ways. The educated people with money had their worlds flipped upside down, being forced out of their homes without any money or belongings. The people who already had very little, needed to worry about being forced to fight or getting caught in the middle of the whole thing. I feel like I learnt a bit about the Nigerians history, it was a small look, and it was from a book of fiction, but I enjoyed it.
Now for what I wasn’t a fan of. This book I found to be character driven, which I don’t have a problem with. But I did find that it took me quite a while to get into, I enjoyed the writing which kept me going but I wouldn’t say that I was hooked until the story moved to the late sixties when the war was starting: which was about 100 or so pages in. I understand what she was doing with the book, looking at the war for the peoples perspective, and focusing on how war and internal conflict can divid a country. I personally prefer to have known more about the politics of the war; it wasn’t clear how it began or how it ended for that matter. I didn’t really understand why the group of people didn’t get along. The book wasn’t necessarily supposed to be about the war, but that was the most interesting part for me. The last thing that I could have done with out was some of the romantic drama. As you may have picked up on, I don’t like romance. Before you get mad I am not saying that this book is in anyway a romance book, just that I could have done with less of it in the plot. I get it love and drama happen in the real world it just seemed like there was quite a bit that all happened to this one family in a relatively short amount of time.
I was very torn between giving this book three or four stars, I went back and forth a few times. It was a bit of a struggle for me to get into and then it seemed quite long, but I just couldn’t bring myself to give it three stars, the writing was just to good. Although this isn’t my favourite book, it was well done and I really enjoyed the writing itself. I am now interested in reading more from this author, from what I have seen most of her stories take place in Nigeria. I really enjoyed seeing a different culture portrayed in this way, from many different angles. I would recommend this book, but I would say it’s something you need tot be in the mood for.
In my effort to start reading more international writers, and learning about other cultures, I’m open to any suggestions you guys might have for me to try next.