Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is now regarded as one of the most vital and original novelists of her generation, was living in a poky apartment in Baltimore, writing the last sections of her second book. She was twenty-six. “Purple Hibiscus,” published the previous fall, had established her reputation as an up-and-coming writer, but she was not yet well known.
Although there had been political violence in the background of her first book, she had written it as a taut, enclosed story of one family; her second, “Half of a Yellow Sun,” would be much larger. She was constructing a story of symphonic complexity, with characters from all over Nigeria and many levels of society, twisted together by love and the chance encounters of refugees. It was the story of Biafra—the secessionist republic in Igboland, in eastern Nigeria, which existed for three years in the late nineteen-sixties, through civil war and widespread starvation, before surrendering to the Nigerian government. The book would be a story in the tradition of the great war novels; she had no interest in clever literary experiments.
Watch Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as a speaker at the John Adams Institute in OUR SPEAKERS ARCHIVE