Books

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an epic historical fiction novel taking place during the Nigerian Civil War, or Biafran War.

The book’s an enthralling tale about multiple struggles. There’s Nigeria’s endeavor to overcome European colonialism, the armed conflict between Nigeria and the rebel state of Biafra. And like any good story, there is contention among the novel’s characters, particularly between sisters Olanna and Kainene and their male partners, Odenigbo and Richard Churchill.

A story in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hands is a thing to behold, and Half of a Yellow Sun is a prime example of its creator’s talents.

The plot advances despite occasional flashbacks and background information detailing the politics and events leading up to and shaping the Nigerian Civil War. The book’s characters are real, unique, with varying perspectives and motivations that shift as the novel unfolds. And Adichie drapes over it all Igbo cultures and traditions that elucidate the frictions between characters, Nigeria’s ethnic groups, and post-colonial Africa.

Not often do I read a novel that feels like a masterpiece. While I can’t quite put Half of a Yellow Sun on the level of legendary books such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Toni Morrison’s Beloved, it’s certainly close.

You can get Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie through my Bidwell Hollow store on Bookshop.org.

My rating: 5/5


Memorable Quotes from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun

“This is our world, although the people who drew this map decided to put their own land on top of ours. There is no top or bottom, you see.”

“She was used to this, being grabbed by men who walked around in a cloud of cologne-drenched entitlement, with the presumption that, because they were powerful and found her beautiful, they belonged together.”

"Those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved." - Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“He wished his whole village were here, so he could join in the moonlight conversations and quarrels and yet live in Master’s house with its running taps and refrigerator and stove.”

“The real tragedy of our postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”

“What will you do with the misery you have chosen? Will you eat misery?”

“Olanna gently placed a pillow beneath her head and sat thinking about how a single act could reverberate over time and space and leave stains that could never be washed off.”

“How much did one know of the true feelings of those who did not have a voice?”

“There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable.”

“He was not living his life; life was living him.”

“The rule of Western journalism: One hundred dead black people equal one dead white person.”

“Grief was the celebration of love, those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.”


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Half of a Yellow Sun Book Cover Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Fiction
Anchor
November 12, 2008
560

From the award-winning, bestselling author of Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists—a haunting story of love and war Recipient of the Women’s Prize for Fiction “Winner of Winners” award With effortless grace, celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie illuminates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra's impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1960s. We experience this tumultuous decade alongside five unforgettable characters: Ugwu, a thirteen-year-old houseboy who works for Odenigbo, a university professor full of revolutionary zeal; Olanna, the professor’s beautiful young mistress who has abandoned her life in Lagos for a dusty town and her lover’s charm; and Richard, a shy young Englishman infatuated with Olanna’s willful twin sister Kainene. Half of a Yellow Sun is a tremendously evocative novel of the promise, hope, and disappointment of the Biafran war.

Memorial: A Novel is a story about two gay men, one Black, and one Japanese, in a struggling relationship. The story’s set in Houston and Japan, and both men take turns narrating the tale from their perspectives.

In Memorial, Bryan Washington deftly probes the challenges and hang-ups that early 21st century same-sex, male relationships sometimes experience. We came of age and came out when it was easier to be gay than before. Replicating traditional marriages and families is available to us if we want it. And yet we sometimes still suffer the damage of being raised by homophobic, prejudiced parents and society.

Memorial: A Novel is a truthful, at times heart-wrenching book. My one objection is how the characters speak to and treat each other. It’s harsh and blunt, which I struggled to identify with and understand. People in my life, especially those closest to me, don’t talk to each other as they do in Memorial.

And I felt at times as if the characters were one character, really. Each character’s speaking style and worldview not much different from another’s.

But Bryan Washington’s Memorial is an engaging, honest story. I enjoyed it, and recommend it.

You can get Memorial: A Novel by Bryan Washington through my Bidwell Hollow store on Bookshop.org.

My rating: 4/5


Memorable Quotes from Bryan Washington’s Memorial: A Novel

“The thing about a moving train is that, sometimes, you can catch it.”

“But the block has recently been invaded by fraternities from the college up the block. And a scattering of professor types. With pockets of rich kids playing at poverty. The Black folks who’ve lived here for decades let them do it, happy for the scientific fact that white kids keep the cops away.”

“I still hadn’t learned that there is a finite number of people who will ever be interested in you.”

“Everybody’s somebody’s villain.”

“A nondecision is a choice in itself.”

“You’re all like your fathers.”

"We take our memories wherever we go, and what’s left are the ones that stick around, and that’s how we make a life." - Memorial: A Novel by Bryan Washington

“It’s hard to head home without succumbing to nostalgia, standing where so many versions of yourself once stood.”

“Promises were only words, and words only meant what you made them.”

“Most ideas are good at the time. We don’t find out that they’ve gone wrong until they actually do.”

“We all change. We’ll all have plenty of homes in this life. It’s when you don’t that there’s an issue.”

“That loving a person means letting them change when they need to. And letting them go when they need to. And that doesn’t make them any less of a home. Just maybe not one for you. Or only for a season or two. But that doesn’t diminish the love. It just changes forms.”

“Everyone thinks there’s more they can do, he said. The truth is that, sometimes, you’re already doing it.”

“We take our memories wherever we go, and what’s left are the ones that stick around, and that’s how we make a life.”

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

“A society at once rigid and unstable can do nothing whatever to alleviate the poverty of its lowest members, cannot present to the hypothetical young man at the crucial moment that so-well-advertised right path.”

“In so far as I reacted at all, I reacted by trying to be pleasant—it being a great part of the American Negro’s education (long before he goes to school) that he must make people ‘like’ him.”

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

“Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious.”


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Memorial Book Cover Memorial
Bryan Washington
Fiction
Riverhead Books
2020
320

Benson and Mike are two young guys who live together in Houston. Mike is a Japanese American chef at a Mexican restaurant and Benson’s a Black day care teacher, and they’ve been together for a few years—good years—but now they’re not sure why they’re still a couple. There’s the sex, sure, and the meals Mike cooks for Benson, and, well, they love each other.

But when Mike finds out his estranged father is dying in Osaka just as his acerbic Japanese mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Texas for a visit, Mike picks up and flies across the world to say goodbye. In Japan he undergoes an extraordinary transformation, discovering the truth about his family and his past. Back home, Mitsuko and Benson are stuck living together as unconventional roommates, an absurd domestic situation that ends up meaning more to each of them than they ever could have predicted. Without Mike’s immediate pull, Benson begins to push outwards, realizing he might just know what he wants out of life and have the goods to get it.

Both men will change in ways that will either make them stronger together, or fracture everything they’ve ever known. And just maybe they’ll all be okay in the end.

Notes of a Native Son is a collection of ten essays by James Baldwin, written in the 1940s and 1950s. The pieces give an honest, unvarnished look at being Black in America and then, in the book’s final entries, in Western Europe.

Despite when it was written, the essays in Notes of a Native Son remain frustratingly accurate. You could read one of them today, not knowing when it was originally produced, and assume it was a contemporary account of racism and prejudice toward Black Americans.

You can get Notes of a Native Son through my Bidwell Hollow store on Bookshop.org.

My rating: 4/5


Memorable Quotes

“I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am, also, much more than that. So are we all.”

“The story of my childhood is the usual bleak fantasy, and we can dismiss it with the restrained observation that I certainly would not consider living it again.”

“Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent.”

“One writes out of one thing only—one’s own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.”

“I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”

“It must be remembered that the oppressed and the oppressor are bound together within the same society; they accept the same criteria, they share the same beliefs, they both alike depend on the same reality.”

“It is only in his music, which Americans are able to admire because a protective sentimentality limits their understanding of it, that the Negro in America has been able to tell his story.”

“We cannot escape our origins, however hard we try, those origins which contain the key—could we but find it—to all that we later become.”

“Americans are far from empty; they are, on the contrary, very deeply disturbed.”

“It is simply impossible not to sing the blues, audibly or not, when the lives lived by Negroes are so inescapably harsh and stunted.”

“It is part of the price the Negro pays for his position in this society that, as Richard Wright points out, he is almost always acting.”

“I can conceive of no Negro native to this country who has not, by the age of puberty, been irreparably scarred by the conditions of his life.”

“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”

“A society at once rigid and unstable can do nothing whatever to alleviate the poverty of its lowest members, cannot present to the hypothetical young man at the crucial moment that so-well-advertised right path.”

“In so far as I reacted at all, I reacted by trying to be pleasant—it being a great part of the American Negro’s education (long before he goes to school) that he must make people ‘like’ him.”

“People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”

“Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious.”

Notes of a Native Son Book Cover Notes of a Native Son
James Baldwin
Memoir
Beacon Press
November 20, 2012
208

Since its original publication in 1955, this first nonfiction collection of essays by James Baldwin remains an American classic. His impassioned essays on life in Harlem, the protest novel, movies, and African Americans abroad are as powerful today as when they were first written.

Shayla Lawson’s This Is Major is the perfect book for this moment.

The book’s a series of essays about Lawson’s experience as a Black woman in America. She takes you from growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Lexington, Ken., to living in Portland, Ore., and beyond.

Cover of Shayla Lawson's This Is Major.

This Is Major (paid link) comes out as our country’s having another conversation about race. It’s a worthy discussion from which there has to be action.

We can’t keep putting up yard signs and going about our business. We have to change how the United States of America treats people of color.

We must implement governmental and societal changes to reduce, if not eliminate the impacts of systemic racism. Here’s an example of what our racist nation’s wrought on people of color.

According to the Federal Reserve, 28 percent of white Americans inherited money in 2016. Just eight percent of Black Americans and five percent of Hispanics received an inheritance. That’s disgusting and wrong.

In This Is Major, Lawson focuses mostly on racism in American life, the Black Girl Magic movement, and Diana Ross. Again, it’s the perfect book for our current moment.

Get your copy of This Is Major (paid link). Then let me know what you think!

P.S. Soon, I’ll interview Shayla on Bidwell Hollow.


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