Known as one of the best historical fiction pieces of literature, the story of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ draws upon the emotions of its reader to make them understand the story on a more empathetic level through the eyes of its characters.
‘Spoiler-Free Summary of Half of a Yellow Sun
The story of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ begins with Ugwu, a village boy who is sent to Nnusuka in the eastern part of Nigeria to work as a house servant for Odenigbo, a revolutionary professor who had a polarized view of the country’s politics. Soon after reaching Nnusuka, Ugwu is given an education by Odenigbo, and he soon meets Olanna, Odenigbo’s girlfriend.
Though a bit jealous, Ugwu comes to like Olanna. Olanna’s sister, Kainene, moves to Port Harcourt in the southern part of the country to run her father’s business. While at a party in Lagos before leaving for Port Harcourt, Kainene meets Richard, a British expatriate, and they fall in love.
After a failed coup and a toppling of the government, mass killings rock the northern part of the country, where thousands of Igbos get killed. Colonel Ojukwu, in retaliation, declares a sovereign government and calls it the Republic of Biafra; this eventually leads the government of Nigeria to go to war with the newly formed state, which is one of the main themes in ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’.
With the war ongoing, Odenigbo and his family flee Nnsuka for safety. Ugwu ends up joining the Biafran army. While in the Biafran army, Ugwu gets injured and is feared for dead. However, he reunites with Odenigbo and Olanna. After the war, people try picking up the pieces of their lives destroyed by years of conflict. Ugwu begins documenting the horrors he faced as a soldier for the Biafran army.
Half of a Yellow Sun Summary
Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.
‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is a novel that tells a story across two-time frames, the time before the Nigerian civil war of 1967 and the time during the war. The story begins with Ugwu, a young village boy who gets sent to work for Mr. Odenigbo, a professor at the University of Nigeria, Nnsuka after his aunt recommended him. On reaching Nnsuka, Ugwu marvels at how easy life was in the city, and after having a conversation with Odenigbo, he gets enrolled back in school. Odenigbo was a man who had a polarized view of the politics of the newly founded Nigeria, and he often brought other intellectuals to discuss the politics of the country.
Olanna, Odenigbo’s girlfriend and daughter to Chief Ozobia, a wealthy Igbo chief, decides to go to Nnsuka and work as a lecturer. Meanwhile, Kainene, Olanna’s sister, meets Richard, a British citizen and writer intrigued by the Igbo culture, and they fall in love. Kainene leaves Lagos for Port Harcourt to run her father’s business, while Richard leaves for Nnsuka, where he befriends Olanna and Odenigbo. With the two of them together, Olanna and Odenigbo attempt to have a baby.
After four years, a coup leads to the death of many northern leaders of the country. The Igbos get blamed for the coup, which eventually fails. Due to a second coup, many Igbos get killed in the northern part of the country, including Olanna’s aunt and husband. However, Olanna successfully escapes Kano with her daughter and heads back to Nnsuka. Meanwhile, Richard witnesses the killing of Igbos in an airport.
With the massacre, Colonel Ojukwu orders the return of all Igbos from the north and declares secession of the east from Nigeria. The newly formed state is called the Republic of Biafra, and celebrations rock the east. However, the celebration does not last as Nigeria declares war on Biafra. With the news of the war, Odenigbo flees from Nnsuka to Umuahia with Olanna, their daughter, and Ugwu. Olanna accepts Odenigbo’s marriage proposal, and they tie the knot. However, during the wedding reception, an air raid occurs.
The story then jumps back to the time before the war when Olanna had traveled to London, and Odenigbo’s mother came to visit him. Odenigbo’s mother brings a girl called Amala, who sleeps with a drunk Odenigbo. On returning, Olanna finds out and moves out of the house to her flat. She meets Richard and, after getting drunk, sleeps with him.
Olanna tells Odenigbo what happened between her and Richard, and they decide to keep it secret from Kainene. Amala gets pregnant and conceives a baby girl, who she refuses to accept. Olanna takes in the child; they name her Chiamaka. Kainene ends up knowing that Richard and her sister had an affair, but she does not end things with him.
The story returns to the war period. Things get worse as the Nigerian government places an economic embargo on Biafra, preventing the shipment of food and money into the region; this leads to extreme starvation. Odenigbo’s mother dies, and he becomes a drunk. Odenigbo and his family end up moving in with Richard and Kainene. Ugwu gets forced into the Biafran army, and soon, he is called the target destroyer.
After their victory, Ugwu partakes in raping a bar girl. After the act, Ugwu becomes more fearful and regretful of what he did. He gets injured in an operation that leads to the death of his captain. News of Ugwu being dead meets Olanna and Odenigbo. After the defeat, Ugwu and the rest of his comrades learn that Biafra had lost the war.
Ugwu gets reunited with Odenigbo, Olanna, Richard, and Kainene. Kainene decides to cross to the northern part of Nigeria with the hope of trading to ease the situation of her and her sister’s family. However, Kainene disappears and is never found even after the effort made by Richard and Odenigbo. Ugwu learns that his sister was gang-raped and writes a novel about his experience as a soldier for Biafra. He calls the book ‘The World Was Silent When We Died.’
What happens to baby in Half of a Yellow Sun?
When the war started, the baby flees with her parents, Olanna and Odenigbo, from Nnsuka.
Who is the first protagonist in Half of a Yellow Sun?
Ugwu is the first protagonist in ‘Half of a Yellow Sun.’
What is the biggest political issue in Half of a Yellow Sun?
The biggest political issue in ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is ethnic-based hatred.
How long does it take to read Half of a Yellow Sun?
At a rate of 250 words per minute, it will take a reader about 10 hours to finish ‘Half of a Yellow Sun.’
How did Olanna and Odenigbo meet?
Olanna met Odenigbo while she was in a line to get tickets for a movie.