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"Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
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Adichie takes her time in reaching the privations of war. Covering the decade to the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-70, the novel first develops its characters in a period of peace and - for some - plenty after Nigerian independence in 1960. Among the protagonists are Odenigbo, or "the Master", a radical maths lecturer at the University of Nsukka - in what became the secessionist Igbo land - and Ugwu, the village teenager who becomes his houseboy, but whom he enrolls at the university staff school.

As Biafran secession "for security" brings a refugee crisis, a retaliatory Nigerian blockade and all-out war, and the world (bar Tanzania) refuses to recognise the fledgling state, the focus is on the characters' grief, resilience and fragmenting relationships. Tending her adopted daughter, Olanna endures the descent into one-room squalor, food-aid queues and air raids without self-pity. But there is anger at the "bleakness of bombing hungry people", and the deadly kwashiorkor, malnutrition that afflicts children, dubbed "Harold Wilson syndrome" for the former colonial power's complicity. While Ugwu's forced conscription involves him in an atrocity whose legacy is lasting shame, the issue of forgiveness between the twin sisters subtly echoes that of warring political groups.

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