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'Yellow Sun' Follows Lives in Turbulent Biafra

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'M Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The young writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is Nigeria's latest literary export. Alan Cheuse has a review of her novel Half of a Yellow Sun.

ALAN CHEUSE: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has delivered a big novel about life in modern Nigeria during wartime. The war in question is the Biafran War of the 1960s, during which the southern region of Biafra fought unsuccessfully to secede. The book's title comes from the Biafran flag, a symbol of the rebellion. We get a clear description of the flag's colors from Olana Ozobia,a beautiful, well educated Igbo woman. When she does her part in the war effort by teaching a class in the small town in which she and her lover, a nationalist intellectual, and his infant lovechild, have been evacuated.

Red was the color of the siblings massacred in the north. Black was for mourning them. Green was for the prosperity Biafra would have. And finally, the half of a yellow stood for the glorious future. The present is not so glorious.

The book mainly follows the fortunes of Olana and those of a psychologically fascinating and varied cast of characters, from high society colonials on down to Ojukwu, an Igbo country boy. Though their daily lives and destinies as well are tied to the end of peace and the rise of war, Adichie makes them, above all else, interesting, even compelling, as sharply defined individuals. This lends to the novel a powerful psychological element that we don't always find in historical fiction.

Ms. Adichie is far too young for us to declare that she's the Tolstoy of Africa. And she does leave out all the battle scenes. Or these days, do we count air raids in which bombers attack innocent civilians as battle? But she's at least as good as any of her contemporaries, who are a talented lot indeed, at keeping our interests alive in a part of the world that most of us have never visited, until now.

BLOCK: The book is Half of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.