Synopses & Reviews
"Astonishing. Okparantas narrators render their stories with such strength and intimacy, such lucidity and composure, that in each and every case the truths of their lives detonate deep inside the readers heart, with the power and force of revelation."—Paul Harding
Here are Nigerian women at home and transplanted to the United States, building lives out of longing and hope, faith and doubt, the struggle to stay and the mandate to leave, the burden and strength of love. Here are characters faced with dangerous decisions, children slick with oil from the river, a woman in love with another despite the penalties. Here is a world marked by electricity outages, lush landscapes, folktales, buses that break down and never start up again. Here is a portrait of Nigerians that is surprising, shocking, heartrending, loving, and across social strata, dealing in every kind of change. Here are stories filled with language to make your eyes pause and your throat catch. Happiness, Like Water introduces a true talent, a young writer with a beautiful heart and a capacious imagination.
"Intricate, graceful prose propels Okparantas profoundly moving and illuminating book. I devoured these stories and immediately wanted more. This is an arrival."—NoViolet Bulawayo
"Okparanta's prose is tender, beautiful and evocative. These powerful stories of contemporary Nigeria are told with compassion and a certain sense of humor. What a remarkable new talent."—Chika Unigwe
"A haunting and startlingly original collection of short stories about the lives of Nigerians both at home and in America. Happiness, Like Water is a deeply affecting literary debut, the work of a sure and gifted new writer."—Julie Otsuka
"When the Igbo people of eastern Nigeria seceded in 1967 to form the independent nation of Biafra, a bloody, crippling three-year civil war followed. That period in African history is captured with haunting intimacy in this artful page-turner from Nigerian novelist Adichie (Purple Hibiscus). Adichie tells her profoundly gripping story primarily through the eyes and lives of Ugwu, a 13-year-old peasant houseboy who survives conscription into the raggedy Biafran army, and twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, who are from a wealthy and well-connected family. Tumultuous politics power the plot, and several sections are harrowing, particularly passages depicting the savage butchering of Olanna and Kainene's relatives. But this dramatic, intelligent epic has its lush and sultry side as well: rebellious Olanna is the mistress of Odenigbo, a university professor brimming with anticolonial zeal; business-minded Kainene takes as her lover fair-haired, blue-eyed Richard, a British expatriate come to Nigeria to write a book about Igbo-Ukwu art and whose relationship with Kainene nearly ruptures when he spends one drunken night with Olanna. This is a transcendent novel of many descriptive triumphs, most notably its depiction of the impact of war's brutalities on peasants and intellectuals alike. It's a searing history lesson in fictional form, intensely evocative and immensely absorbing. (Sept. 15)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[H]ere is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers....[Adichie] is fearless..." Chinua Achebe
"Astonishing...fierce and beautifully written....Half of a Yellow Sun is honest and cutting, and always, always human, always loving....[A]mbitious, impeccably researched....Penetrating...epic and confident. Adichie refuses to look away." Binyavanga Wainaina, author of Discovering Home
"When I think of how many European and American writers rehash the themes of suburban adultery or unhappy childhood, I look with awe and envy at this young woman from Africa who is recording the history of her country. She is fortunate and we, her readers, are even luckier." Edmund White
"Vividly written, thrumming with life, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel. In its compassionate intelligence, as in its capacity for intimate portraiture, this novel is a worthy successor to such twentieth-century classics as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and V.S. Naipaul's A Bend in the River." Joyce Carol Oates
"With searching insight, compassion and an unexpected yet utterly appropriate touch of wit, Adichie has created an extraordinary book, a worthy addition to the world's great tradition of large-visioned, powerfully realistic novels." Los Angeles Times
"Although there is nothing ostentatiously writerly about the straightforward style of Half of a Yellow Sun, Ms. Adichie can make a large, resonant gesture when need be." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Adichie, born seven years after the war, puts a powerfully human face on this sobering story, which is far from over." Seattle Times
"This book confirms the notion that if you want to understand a country's past, certainly you should read historical and economic texts. If you want to understand its soul, however, read its fiction." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Adichie's clear-sighted examination reveals how quickly national loyalties, even when rooted in seemingly just causes, can become entangled with self-absorption, denial and even cruelty." Newsday
2014 New York Public Library Young Lions Award Finalist
2014 Rolex Mentors and Protégés Arts Initiative Finalist in Literature
2014 Lambda Awards General Lesbian Fiction Finalist
2013 Society of Midland Authors Award Finalist
2013 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, Long-listed
2013 Caine Prize in African Writing Finalist
Editors' Choice, New York Times Book Review
The Guardian's Best African Fiction of 2013
2012 United States Artists Fellowship Nominated Author
“Full of movement…These tales will break your heart open. Okparanta guides you through her stories with lovely, surreal, haunting clarity.”
—New York Daily News
"Okparanta is an unpretentious writer, but her ambition comes through in the lives she renders—young Nigerian women divided between home and a new world."
"The stories in Okparantas first collection are quiet, often unnervingly so, in the manner of a stifled shriek…One character notes the silences that fall between her and her mother, ‘as if we no longer valued spoken words, as if spoken words were gaudy finishes on a delicate piece of art, unnecessary distractions from the masterpiece, whose substance was more meaningfully experienced if left unornamented. If this is Okparantas goal - the distillation of experience into something crystalline, stark but lustrous - she is well on her way there."
—New York Times Book Review
"Chinelo Okparanta was chosen as one of Grantas six new voices for 2012, and its easy to see why. Her short story collection, Happiness, Like Water (Mariner), is a triumph of a book. The ten stories are all short but powerful, tracing the lives of women from Okparantas native Nigeria…Ultimately Okparantas collection is not so much a statement about Nigerian women as it is a depiction of a few women who happen to be Nigerian going through universal issues in their own, unique social contexts. Its a book about Nigeria, about America, and about women everywhere told in short sentences and simple, matter-of-fact language that manages to be incredibly emotionally evocative nonetheless. Okparanta is a certainly a voice to watch, and clearly deserves a place on any bookshelf beside fellow Nigerian authors Achebe and Adichie."
"The stories are quiet and understated and lucid and gather up their power almost without the reader realizing it, then they break your heart, just like that. Such subtle and open and strong writing."
"This promising young author delivers an affecting collection, revolving around African women, at home and abroad, contemplating religion and love."—Time Out New York
"Okparanta pays great attention to detail, making it easy to get caught up in the problems of these women who must fend for themselves. . . She writes with compassion and strength for these nameless, faceless women who are unable to defend their own actions."—Bust
"Bittersweet. . .[Happiness, Like Water] is an extremely promising debut: the handling of tone and perspective is assured; the prose lucid and elegant throughout."—Financial Times (UK)
"The unsparing stories of Happiness, Like Water show Okparanta to be a champion of young, frequently misunderstood female protagonists whose voices are too often stifled."
"Okparanta skillfully introduces readers to a new world held back by old-world traditions"
"Nigeria, the vibrancy of its heart, the soul of its people, is captured in these stories."
"[Okparanta] confirms her place as a writer to watch with the remarkable debut collection Hapiness, Like Water... A clear-eyed, sensitive debut collection of stories by a talented young Nigerian writer exploring themes of family, religion, longing and duty."
"Chinelo Okparantas debut collection is astonishing. Her narrators render their stories with such strength and intimacy, such lucidity and composure, that in each and every case the truths of their lives detonate deep inside the readers heart, with the power and force of revelation."
—Paul Harding, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers
"Okparanta's prose is tender, beautiful and evocative. These powerful stories of contemporary Nigeria are told with compassion and a certain sense of humour. What a remarkable new talent."
—Chika Unigwe, author of On Black Sisters Street
"Intricate, graceful prose propels Okparantas profoundly moving and illuminating book. I devoured these stories and immediately wanted more. This is an arrival."
—NoViolet Bulawayo, author of We Need New Names and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing
"A haunting and startlingly original collection of short stories about the lives of Nigerians both at home and in America. Okparantas characters are forced to make difficult, often impossible choices—a university student decides to go to work as an escort to pay for her mothers medical bills, a high school teacher is asked to come home to care for her dying, abusive father—and yet they manage to prevail through quiet and sometimes surprising acts of defiance. Okparantas prose is elegant and precise, fueled by a strong undercurrent of rage that surfaces at unexpected moments. Happiness, Like Water is a deeply affecting literary debut, the work of a sure and gifted new writer."
—Julie Otsuka, author of National Bestseller and National Book Award Finalist The Buddha in the Attic
"Without bluster, Chinelo Okparanta writes stories that are brave and devastating."
—Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist
With her award-winning debut novel, Purple Hibiscus
, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was heralded by the Washington Post Book World
as "the 21st century daughter of Chinua Achebe." Now, in her masterly, haunting new novel, she recreates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra's impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria during the 1960s.
With the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Adichie weaves together the lives of five characters caught up in the extraordinary tumult of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Ugwu is houseboy to Odenigbo, a university professor who sends him to school, and in whose living room Ugwu hears voices full of revolutionary zeal. Odenigbo's beautiful mistress, Olanna, a sociology teacher, is running away from her parents' world of wealth and excess; Kainene, her urbane twin, is taking over their father's business; and Kainene's English lover, Richard, forms a bridge between their two worlds. As we follow these intertwined lives through a military coup, the Biafran secession and the subsequent war, Adichie brilliantly evokes the promise, and intimately, the devastating disappointments that marked this time and place.
Epic, ambitious and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a more powerful, dramatic and intensely emotional picture of modern Africa than any we have had before.
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 professors beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lovers charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olannas willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.
A moving debut story collection centered on Nigerian women, as they build lives out of longing and hope, faith and doubt, the struggle to stay and the mandate to leave, and the burden and strength of love.
About the Author
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria. Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. It was also short-listed for the Orange Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Her short fiction has appeared in Granta and the Iowa Review among other literary journals, and she received an O. Henry Prize in 2003. She is a 20052006 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University and divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
Table of Contents
Contents On Ohaeto Street 1
Story, Story! 47
Runs Girl 67
Tumours and Butterflies 169
Reading Group Guide
“A gorgeous, pitiless account of love, violence and betrayal during the Biafran war.”
The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about Half of a Yellow Sun, a richly imagined story of the disastrous war between Nigeria and Biafra, largely forgotten in the West, which won the 2007 Orange Prize in Britain and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
1. Ugwu is only thirteen when he begins working as a houseboy for Odenigbo, but he is one of the most intelligent and observant characters in the novel. How well does Ugwu manage the transition from village life to the intellectual and privileged world of his employers? How does his presence throughout affect the reader’s experience of the story?
2. About her attraction to Odenigbo, Olanna thinks, “The intensity had not abated after two years, nor had her awe at his self-assured eccentricities and his fierce moralities” [p. 36]. What is attractive about Odenigbo? How does Adichie poke fun at certain aspects of his character? How does the war change him?
3. Adichie touches very lightly on a connection between the Holocaust and the Biafran situation [p. 62]; why does she not stress this parallel more strongly? Why are the Igbo massacred by the Hausa? What tribal resentments and rivalries are expressed in the Nigerian-Biafran war? In what ways does the novel make clear that these rivalries have been intensified by British interference?
4. Consider the conversation between Olanna and Kainene on pp. 130-131. What are the sources of the distance and distrust between the two sisters, and how is the rift finally overcome? What is the effect of the disappearance of Kainene on the ending of the story?
5. Discuss the ways in which Adichie reveals the differences in social class among her characters. What are the different cultural assumptions—about themselves and others—made by educated Africans like Odenigbo, nouveau riche Africans like Olanna’s parents, uneducated Africans like Odenigbo’s mother, and British expatriates like Richard’s ex-girlfriend Susan?
6. Excerpts from a book called The World Was Silent When We Died appear on pp. 103, 146, 195, 256, 296, 324, 470, and 541. Who is writing this book? What does it tell us? Why is it inserted into the story in parts?
7. Adichie breaks the chronological sequence of her story so that she can delay the revelation that Baby is not Olanna’s child and that Olanna had a brief liaison with Richard. What are the effects of this delay, and of these revelations, on your reading experience?
8. Susan Grenville-Pitts is a stereotype of the colonial occupier with her assertion that “It’s quite extraordinaryÉ how these people can’t control their hatred of each other. . . . Civilization teaches you control” [p. 194]. Richard, on the other hand, wants to be African, learns to speak Igbo, and says “we” when he speaks of Biafra. What sort of person is Richard? How do you explain his desires?
9. Adichie makes a point of displaying Olanna’s middle-class frame of mind: she is disgusted at the cockroach eggs in her cousins’ house reluctant to let Baby mix with village children because they have lice, and so on. How is her privileged outlook changed by the war?
10. The poet Okeoma, in praise of the new Biafra, wrote, “If the sun refuses to rise, we will make it rise” [p. 219]. Does Adichie seem to represent the Biafran secession as a doomed exercise in political na•vet? or as a desperate bid for survival on the part of a besieged ethnic group? Given the history of Nigeria and Britain’s support during the war, is the defeat of Biafra a foregone conclusion?
11. The sisters’ relationship is damaged further when Olanna seduces Richard [p. 293]. Why does Olanna do this? If she is taking revenge upon Odenigbo for his infidelity, why does she choose Richard? What does Kainene mean when she bitterly calls Olanna “the good one” [p. 318]?
12. How does being witnesses to violent death change people in the story—Olanna, Kainene, Odenigbo, Ugwu? How does Adichie handle descriptions of scenes of violence, death, and famine?
13. What goes through Ugwu’s mind as he participates in the rape of the bar girl [p. 457]? How does he feel about it later, when he learns that his sister was also gang-raped [pp. 497, 526]?
14. The novel is structured in part around two love stories, between Olanna and Odenigbo and between Kainene and Richard. It is “really a story of love,” Adichie has said (Financial Times, September 9, 2006). How does Adichie handle romantic and sexual love? Why are these love plots so important to a novel about a war?
15. The story begins as Ugwu’s aunty describes to Ugwu his new employer: “Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair” [p. 3]. It ends with Ugwu’s dedication of his book: “For Master, my good man” [p. 541]. Consider how Ugwu’s relation to his master has changed throughout the course of the story.
16. How is it fitting that Ugwu, and not Richard, should be the one who writes the story of the war and his people?
17. In a recent interview Adichie said, “My family tells me that I must be old. This is a book I had to write because it’s my way of looking at this history that defines me and making sense of it.” (She recently turned twenty-nine, and based parts of the story on her family’s experiences during that time and also on a great deal of reading.) “I didn’t want to just write about events,” Adichie said. “I wanted to put a human face on them” (The New York Times, September 23, 2006). Why is it remarkable that a woman so young could write a novel of this scope and depth?