“I wrote this novel because I wanted to write about love and war, because I grew up in the shadow of Biafra, because I lost both grandfathers in the Nigeria-Biafra war, because I wanted to engage with my history in order to make sense of my present, because many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved in Nigeria today, because my father has tears in his eyes when he speaks of losing his father, because my mother still cannot speak at length about losing her father in a refugee camp, because the brutal bequests of colonialism make me angry, because the thought of the egos and indifference of men leading to the unnecessary deaths of men and women and children enrages me, because I don’t ever want to forget. I have always known that I would write a novel about Biafra.”
Few of us can forget the images of starving children from the Biafran war. Stick thin arms, swollen bellies, blank expressions, but what caused the war and what was it really about? In the novel, there are three characters whose lives tell the story. Ugwu, a poor houseboy who works for a University professor and develops a passion for writing. Olanna, a young woman who abandons her life of privilege to live with her revolutionary and charismatic lover. Richard, an English writer who comes as an expatriate and never leaves Nigeria or Olanna’s twin sister.
Earlier this year I heard Adichie speak at a book conference. Her written and spoken voice is insightful, important, and articulate. Though she has studied at Harvard and Yale, she is dedicated to promoting the writer’s craft in her home country of Nigeria, leading yearly workshops in Lagos.
In 2009 Adichie held a TED Talk which captivated me. She talks about the danger of the single story. It is 20 minutes long, but listening to it is time well spent. “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie )