The Book, High Life & School buildings in “Half of the Yellow Sun”

In this section of “Half of a Yellow Sun”, readers are shifted from narration in the Early Sixties to narration in the Late Sixties. 

The Book: The World Was Silent When We Died

Throughout the novel, passages under the heading, “The Book: The World Was Silent When We Died,” appear at the end of chapters. When first reading, it is easy to believe simply that these are excerpts from Richard’s struggled writing. They mostly appear at the end of the chapters focused on Richard, with the exception of the fourth passage, which appears at the end of an Ugwu-chapter (beginning page 256, end of Chapter 18). This is a very short chapter that contains the wedding of Odenigbo and Olanna that dissolves into an air raid. The excerpt talks about the Nigerian economy, and how the massacres of the Igbo people united the Biafrans.

Where do you think that these passages are coming from? Is it actually Richard who is writing them, or do you think  someone else is the author?

In the fifth passage from The Book (beginning page 296, end of Chapter 21), reads, “Starvation was a Nigerian weapon of war. Starvation broke Biafra and brought Biafra fame and made Biafra last as on as it did. Starvation made the people of the world take notice..”

The struggle for food illustrates a bigger struggle of the Biafran people, especially when starvation is identified as a weapon. In Chapter 25, Baby gets sick and the medicine that she takes makes her lose her appetite. In Chapter 28, a child is mentioned to be sick with kwashiorkor, a form of malnutrition that occurs when there is not enough protein in the diet.

Does looking at starvation as a weapon change the way you read these passages about malnourished children or the lines that Olanna must wait in to get food?

Do you see other connections appear between the passages from The Book and the rest of the novel?

High life music

The appearance of High Life music throughout the novel is significant. Not only is this music very uniquely African, but it also important because it is so intertwined with politics.

Earlier in the novel, back in the Early Sixties, and interesting discussion about music takes place in one of Odenigbo’s home gatherings (page 139, Chapter 5). Olanna says, “‘Don’t waste your time asking Odenigbo about High Life… He’s a classicist but loath to admit it in public because it’s such a Western taste.’”

Alice, Olanna’s neighbor, plays piano music, but makes no mention of High Life music, and in fact she only plays what Olanna guesses to be Beethoven (page 412,

If High Life music is connected to Biafran nationalism, and classical music exclusively western, what does this illustrate to the readers that Alice is ambivalent about this music? 

The significance of the school building itself

In the beginning of Chapter 26, Olanna tells Ugwu that Akwakuma Primary School would be turned into a refugee camp, and that she is going to organize classes in the yard (pages 358-359). 

In Chapter 29, Ugwu is conscripted into the military and arrives at the training camp, a former primary school (page 450).

What is the significance of the school building itself to the novel?