Toni Morrison

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

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
November 12, 2008

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.

If you’re a writer, you get a lot of advice about how to improve your writing. One piece of guidance writers receive is to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader, the thinking goes. 

And I agree. How can you be a word peddler if you’re not a word consumer? But what’s often not talked about is what a writer reads. 

The words writers take in mean as much as the words a writer puts down. That’s because to be our best writing self requires seeing the world outside of ourselves. A common thread among the best writers is they know something other than their own lives. 

Exposure and understanding help shape great writers. That’s why we need to be intentional with our reading. Below is a lesson I learned, and how it can help you, too.

Mix up the books

A few years ago, I listed all the books I read that year. Seventy-five percent of what I read was about World War II and written by white men. I was shocked. 

Do you know the writers whose work I had never read? The list included names such as Toni Morrison, Willa Cather, Joan Didion, James Baldwin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. These are writers who excelled at their craft, and I was not consuming their words. Not to mention, I wanted to write fiction. And yet, the only books I read were nonfiction. 

Nicholas E. Barron quote: "Branching out beyond your comfort zone can help you discover new voices and improve your writing."

We all make choices, either consciously or unconsciously, in what we read. Maybe your bias is in the genre. You like mysteries, and so all you read are mystery novels. 

Or, your bias could be in authors. I didn’t intend to read only books by white guys. It just happens that a lot of books about World War II are by white men. Look at a list of the past dozen or so authors you’ve read. Are they all one gender, race, ethnicity, and so forth? 

We can also be partial in where our books’ settings. Shortly after discovering my predilection for World War II books, I realized I rarely read something set in Africa. Now I rotate into my reading pile books taking place in Africa.

There are many ways we pick the books we read. And we may have the best of intentions in our choices. But branching out beyond your comfort zone can help you discover new voices and improve your writing.

improve your writing by reading diversely

Reading Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room shook me. Discovering Willa Cather changed my understanding of what stories a writer can tell. Consuming Toni Morrison’s work is like crawling into the lap of a master.

Becoming more intentional in my reading has enhanced my writing. I’m a better writer now than when I was reading World War II books. And I understand and appreciate more who a writer can be and what stories they can tell. 

You can have the same experience. Look at the books you’ve recently read. Are there commonalities among them? The authors may be similar, or the books are in the same genre. See if there are ways you can expand what you read.

And, once you do, reevaluate after some time. Two years after I broadened what I read, I realized something. I hadn’t read a book published within that time. Everything I read was older than two years. So, I adjusted. Now I work new books into my reading.

Writers should read, yes, but the words we consume matter. Being intentional about your reading will improve your writing. So, reach beyond your typical reads to discover new authors and worlds. And watch yourself grow as a writer.

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This article originally appeared on Medium.