Author in Focus: How to #Write #War like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

English: Chimamanda Adichie

English: Chimamanda Adichie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Author in Focus Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  (born 15 September 1977) is a writer from Nigeria. She has been called “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young anglophone authors is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”.

Her first novel, Purple Hibiscus (2003), was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (2004) and awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (2005).

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, named after the flag of the short-lived nation of Biafra, is set before and during the Biafran War. It was awarded the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. Half of a Yellow Sun has been adapted into a film  and is set for release in 2014.

Her third book, The Thing Around Your Neck (2009), is a collection of short stories. (Wikipedia)

How does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Succeed in Writing about War?

Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Half of a Yellow Sun is set both before and during the Biafran War. Those of us of a certain age, may remember ‘Biafran babies’ being one of the first poster children for starvation. A nation of starving children when Biafra attempts to become an independent republic in South East Nigeria in the 1960’s

In a nutshell, the reason Adichie’s work is so powerful is because she makes us care about her characters, and in doing do she personalizes the experience of the war. The extended family involved is an ordinary family with their own familial ups and downs, and the core nuclear family, is middle class, like many people who would read the novel. They had leftist views, but many of us do. So when their life takes a turn for the worse , we can relate to having our lives gradually stripped away. We can imagine what we might do in the same situation.

“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”
~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The other reason is that clearly she did her research. The reasons behind the conflict, and how it plays out are shown in meticulous detail without bashing us over the head with a history lesson. Again, because she shows us through the characters. So we learn about what happened and why it happened. But it’s done in such a way, we don’t realize we are learning. We keep reading because we want to know what will happen next, will things get better or worse. Who will survive and who will not?

 Why Write about War?

War is difficult to write about. How do you show the horrors  of war without the violence being gratuitous? Why write about it at all? Don’t we have enough coverage with our 24/7 news coverage these days?  There have been some excellent war reporters who have shown us front lines, shelled cities, and injured people, with truth and heartfelt coverage that is as unbiased as reporting can be. But a novel takes us further. It takes us into the hearts of the characters, and what it was like to actually live day to day in a wartime setting. I believe it’s important to keep writing about wars, both past and present, not to grind the same old saw, but so we can review events with a fresh perspective, and so ultimately we will never forget.

“There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Cambridge April 2013,,a.k.andrew

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Cambridge April 2013


What are your favorite novels set during a war? Have you ever considered writing a short story or novel set during a war? If not, why not?

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Author in Focus is a blog series featuring vignettes of some of the greatest writers of the 20th & 21st century.

 “A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”  

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