A professor once shared this video with me and I thought it was worth sharing, especially as a lens to view Adichie’s priorities for writing “Half of a Yellow Sun.” Chimamanda Adichie gave this talk for TED in 2009, a few years after the publishing of “Half of a Yellow Sun.” I know the video is almost 20 minutes long, but it is worth a watch.
In the speech, Adichie warns of the sometimes limiting nature of Literature. Her constant reference to the danger of a “single story” or creating incomplete representations, stereotypes and a false sense of what is authentically African, reminded me of all of the doubles that are present in “Half of a Yellow Sun.” For example, the twins Olanna and Kainene, who are opposite in appearance, personality and experience. Even Kainene is a double in herself, as her father says “she is like two.” The respective men in their lives are also a double of each other, with Odenigbo having such strong opinions and a strong presence, and Richard who is more reserved (spoiler alert! the parallel between Richard’s impotence and Odenigbo’s sexual deviance that occurs I think in part three is a clear double). What is most interesting is that not only Adichie managed to stray away from the single story by observing Nigerian through a non-european perspective, but by creating characters who all have very different experiences even within Nigeria.
At the risk of generalizing, I think that Adichie’s words might also shed some light on the priorities of the other Nigerian writers we have read so far. At one part of the speech, Adiche says that the most disempowering thing that a writer can do is to tell a person’s story secondly. For example, starting a story with the arrival of colonial powers creates a completely different story than starting with the natives. This makes me think of the structure of “Things Fall Apart.” Achebe begins the novel by establishing the culture and lives of the Igbo community. Although the story makes a strong point by ending with the Europeans, they come in secondly, making the Nigerian story the definitive aspect. This can also be seen in “Death and the Kings Horseman” where the play begins with almost a complete immersion into the community’s culture. As Adichie says, these authors give their Nigerian subjects power by making their stories more prominent.