Ugwu is a teenager from a village in Nigeria who goes to work as a houseboy for a university lecturer, Odenigbo. His aunt tells him that if he works hard, he will eat well. ‘You will even eat meat every day,’ she says. Food is everywhere and everything in Half of a Yellow Sun. Ugwu becomes a talented cook, while Harrison, the neighbouring houseboy, takes a snobbish pleasure from his knowledge of obscure European dishes like stuffed garden eggs and lemon meringue pie. Odenigbo cheats on his girlfriend, Olanna, after his mother feeds him witch-doctored rice. And a priest asks Olanna, who is unable to forgive her lover, ‘What will you do with the misery you have chosen? Will you eat misery?’
Food is a versatile metaphor in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel, set before and during the Nigerian civil conflict of 1967–70. When the eastern provinces of Nigeria declared independence, the new state – Biafra – was starved into submission by the central government. The values and associations attached to different types of food, as well as its simple necessity, give Adichie a wide scope in which to work. Her talent is now beyond doubt, judging by this moving and accomplished follow-up to Purple Hibiscus, her enormously successful debut.
Purple Hibiscus was a coming-of-age story. But it also began to explain Nigeria, and to tell the country’s history. Half of a Yellow Sun continues this project explicitly. Focusing on the 1960s, it describes the arc of post-independence politics and post-colonial thought through tribal coups and massacres to civil war.