Tag-Archive for ◊ African Studies ◊

Author:
• Monday, September 28th, 2009

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Enugu, Nigeria in 1977 from Igbo parents. She is the fifth of six siblings. Her father worked as first professor of statistics, then became a deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka where her mother also worked as a first woman registrar.

After successfully completing her secondary education, Adichie briefly studied medicine and pharmacy at the University of Nigeria. She obtained a scholarship to study communication at Drexel in Philadelphia for two years. Afterward she moved to Eastern Connecticut State University, to be near her sister who lived there and continued studying communication and political science.

She obtained a degree in 2001, which was complemented by a master degree in Creative Writing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She also obtained an MA in African Studies from Yale University in 2008. Adichie lives between Nigeria and the U.S.A. where she teaches creative writing.

Adichie has to date written three novels:
Purple Hibiscus, published in 2003 was short-listed for the 2004 Orange Fiction prize and long-listed for the Booker Prize. It was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for First Book and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.
Half of a Yellow Sun was published in 2006 and was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007.
The Thing Around Your Neck was published in June 2009.

She also participated with a short story in “One World: A global anthology…” which was published in May 2009.

The title of Half of a Yellow Sun refers to the Biafran flag emblem, a sun halfway through rising. The story is set in the 1960s in southeastern Nigeria. It is a fictitious story based on fact, before, during and briefly after the three-year Nigerian-Biafran war, which lasted from 1967 to 1970, between the Muslim Hausa-Fulani tribe from the north and the Christian Igbo tribe from the south east and also the Yoruba tribe: An armed conflict that was triggered due to economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions and due to the fragile balance and enmity between the different tribes.

The novel is divided into four parts, relating the events between the early and late sixties switching, in alternation, back and forth in time.

Olanna and Kainene, the Igbo privileged twin sisters, who come from a wealthy and powerful family, are obliged to survive through hardship and starvation. Although twins and well educated, they are very different in every way, not only in looks but also in mentality and in their life expectations. Olanna is an intellectual, while Kainene is a businesswoman, who successfully runs the family affairs.

The third main character, is Ugwu, the thirteen-year-old hard working, ambitious and highly intelligent houseboy, inspired in part by Mellitus, who was working as a houseboy for Adichie’s parents during the war. The other part was inspired by Fide, who was the houseboy when Adichie was growing up.

There is also the passionate, ideological professor Odenigbo, the maths lecturer at the university of Nsukka and Olanna’s partner, who becomes her husband later in the story. He is politically and radically minded, he holds an intellectual salon in his house with his colleagues, where they debate about the day to day problems Nigeria is facing and the post-colonial steps that should be taken.

The fifth character is the English expatriate writer, Richard Churchill who is Kainene’s lover. Richard loves the country, the culture and has the feeling of belonging to the Igbo tribe.

The story evolves around these five lively, interwoven, Igbo characters who are resilient to their fate and don’t convey any self pity.

Half of a Yellow Sun is a deeply moving novel with many themes : The African culture, the Biafran war with its violence, harshness, famine and oppression. It also depicts dignity, love, hatred, tribal loyalty and ethnic allegiance, but also human failure and hope among family members.

Through her innate gift as a storyteller, her compassion and her four-year effort of searching and writing the book that she always wanted to write, Adichie succeeds in producing Half of a Yellow Sun in memory of her grand-parents, whom she never saw and who died during the war, before she was born.

In her novel, Adichie takes her readers to an emotionally haunting, heartfelt and profound scenes of the sixties in a complex Nigeria, which had to suffer a brutal and savage civil war, like many other African countries are suffering even today. Adichie says in one of her interviews that : “many of the issues that led to the war remain unresolved today”.

The novel ends on a very poignant and sad note, the title of Ugwu’s written book about the Nigerian-Biafran war : “The World was Silent When We Died”.

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Author:
• Friday, March 28th, 2008

Samia Serageldin was born in the early fifties in Cairo, Egypt, the daughter of a wealthy landowner of a renowned Egyptian family. She married at twenty and went to England where she obtained an M.S. Degree in Politics from London’s school of Oriental and African Studies.

She emigrated with her family in 1980 to the U.S.A. and has lived since then in Michigan, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. She has two adult sons who live in two different continents from hers.

Samia Serageldin worked as a professor of French and Arabic language, an interpreter for an international company, a book columnist, a free-lance writer and as a public speaker on current affairs.

The Cairo House is Samia Serageldin’s first novel. It was first published in the USA in 2000, the UK publication followed a few years later in 2004. It’s semi-autobiographical, a way for the author to reconcile the present with the past. The book is about the changes and developments in Egypt during the decades following the 1952 Egyptian revolution.

Gigi the main character in the book relates her day-to-day life during the time of the four presidents who took power after king Faruk. President Naguib, then Nasser, followed by Sadat, and then Mubarak.

She starts her story in the good old days, the belle époque, of an Egyptian privileged wealthy, landowner family who went through hardship after president Nasser sequestrated their lands in the sixties. From then on, life will never be the same again neither for Gigi, her family, nor for Egypt.

Gihan (Gigi), the narrator and main character, is an introverted, complicated and tormented person. She hastily married a man who is a complete stranger to her, saying that “she was tired of waiting for life to begin.” She was young, inexperienced and believed innocently that life started with wedlock.

The expected happened, her married life was a failure. Her second marriage was not a great success either. Like most expatriates, she didn’t feel at home in the USA and she felt out of place in the new Egypt. She seemed to be helplessly lost until the end of the story, seeking a way out of her dilemma.

Despite that, it’s not easy to feel much compassion for Gihan, her character lacks some depth. The events and turmoil surrounding her life are described more elaborately, although some subjects could have been more developed.

The metaphors of the Chameleon for the constant readjustment between the two worlds, the East and the West, and the kaleidoscope for the change in fate, which are mentioned in several parts of the novel are, of essential importance to the author. It conveys what destiny is about. The slightest change in the kaleidoscope, like a small occurrence, can alter the route of one’s life and therefore make a substantial difference to one’s destiny.

The story of Gihan and her clan in The Cairo House reveals Egyptian culture, traditions, politics and unrest amongst the different classes in society under each new regime. The novel starts with a vivid and rich description of Egyptian society of the time, but as the author moves her character to the western world, the images are fading and are no longer of substance.

The Cairo House is an entertaining book to read. Written by an Egyptian who lived the various events that occurred in her country first hand, it’s valuable historically for the important Egyptian period of the first half of the twentieth century and the significant changes that followed whether in politics, culture, way of life or even the country’s infrastructure.

Samia Serageldin, in one of her interviews, says about The Cairo House : “I’ve been often asked why, since The Cairo House draws so heavily from my personal history, I did not simply write a memoir. It is often said that a memoir is fiction in disguise and a novel is fact masquerading as fiction. For me, at least, I could not have written as freely without the fig leaf of fiction…The great satisfaction of being read comes from taking others with you on that fascinating journey.”