What I’m Reading
Posted April 9, 2007on:
I am almost done with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. It has been my companion through the long weekend: I’ve eaten with it at the dinner table, stayed up with it late into the night and my brain clung to it as I lied awake in the early morning, before I could go to sleep. The story is set in Nigeria in the 60’s, starting a few years before the Biafran War, and built around the lives of an upper middle-class Igbo family and their loved ones.
In the few reviews that I read the person always mentioned how Biafra became a byword for starvation, with parents admonishing their children at the dinner table on how Biafran children would have made a single plate of food last a week. I was born in the early 80’s and missed all this. (My mother referred to less fortunate people in general rather than any specific group.) The first major African political situation that I can remember being aware of in my childhood was the apartheid regime in South Africa. So I made the mistake of googling for it when I was barely half way through the novel and every page turned since then was done with a spirit braced for the worst.
I found the Guardian review funny because because Maya Jaggi asserts that Nigeria’s colonial past was “alluded to”. For anyone who has read the novel, I doubt that you’ll disagree that a stronger word would have been more appropriate. I don’t know how more directly Adichie could have referred to it, short of setting her book in a colonised Nigeria. There’s a paragraph in which she neatly summarises how the country was created!
The best things I love about the book are the plausible, complex, sympathetic characters and how Adichie manages to incorporate the factual into her fictional account without strangling her imagination. (You know how much I hate that.) From the jacket copy this is precisely the kind of book I would run away from, but Adichie’s writing talent is astounding. Really. I don’t know how it’s possible to write this well at her age. I imagine she’s the kind of writer who make others sigh in despair.
Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars is a funny book. And by funny, I mean odd. We have a narrator, living at the turn of the 20th century, disappointed with the prejudiced way medical minds have approached diseases. They always think about ways to cure it first, to eradicate it, they despise it, the silly birds, ignoring the value of what is right in front of them. Disease is humanity’s true state, our past and our future, health being a minor moment of little interest or import in our lives. Our narrator, keen on mental illnesses specifically, will apply his truly scientific mind to this true manifestation of human nature.
He finds all that he could ever want in a rich psychotic inmate at a luxurious asylum blessed with a horrific visage and physique who has a taste for murdering young women.
Of course you will be getting at least one excerpt. These French authors, they are something else.