The Day Half Yellow Sun Brightened Helsinki

The atmosphere around the auditorium marked Portania III was calm and relaxing. Her friendly velvet voice, calmly and teasingly absorbing everyone’s attention.

  The rhythm of her diction, a broadcaster’s dream, a perfect ‘microphone voice’ one would say. As she spoke, you can hear the detailed curves and meanders on each syllable, the emphasized diphthongs, and the twittered lighter notes on the edge of each spoken word.

So compelling and balmy was her voice that one was kept at the edge of being fully awake and attentive; and drifting off into a semi trance. All in a well-struck perfect balance. 


The occasion was the well-attended book reading and signing event that took place in Finland at the University of Helsinki on the 17th of April 2009. I have been acquainted with Ngozi’s literary success through the ever flowing articles and comments on the young shooting star on the internet. The numerous works she had accomplished and the subsequent awards that came with them are not new to me. But meeting her in flesh and blood was an extraordinary experience that left me spellbound. All through her reading at the auditorium Porthania III of the University of Helsinki, the audience including my humble self could not take off our gaze away from her even for a split second. She exuded confidence and mastery of her arts as if she has been around for years. This combined with her natural physical endowment, made her more captivating.

Earlier before the reading session, she had a very informative and entertaining interview with one of the organizers. She exuded a very high level of knowledge on every subject she spoke on and a down-to-earth answer to questions regarding her personal feelings. This in particular endeared her to everyone in the audience. For instance in answering a question regarding her two years stay at the Yale University studying African History, she quickly admitted to the fact that she was not carved out for academics. She wondered to the laughter of all present why academicians find it difficult to explain things in plain language rather than using unnecessary complicated terminologies. She was also quick to add that she found the library at Yale university a throve of literary treasure which she took great advantage of, and that even though she may not have achieved what she went there to achieve, she might have collected a lot of materials for future fiction.

In many ways, Half of The Yellow Sun is a history book, it is a penetrating history of the Biafra war. This fiction fell into the category the doyen of African literature Professor Chinua Achebe referred to as beneficent fiction in his essay titled ‘The truth of Fiction’ that was first delivered at the convocation lecture of the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo  University in 1978. In it Achebe made a distinction between “malignant” and “beneficent” fiction. According to him, every fiction that tells the truth is beneficent fiction.

When asked if Fiction can tell a true story, Chimamanda stated that fiction gives her the freedom to be completely honest, and truthful in what she writes and without self sensor. She added that if she were asked to write an essay about herself she would find it difficult to be truthful about everything; she will be protective of herself and her loved ones, but in writing a fiction she does not feel restrained, so she gives out everything with utmost freedom.

The author of half yellow sunThe question and answer session with the audience during the reading was quite interesting, and most of the questions focused on Biafra. This was not surprising because though a lot of people in Finland knew of Biafra and were sympathetic towards the sufferings of Biafra people especially children, but they lacked knowledge of the real reasons behind the war. Many of the speakers thanked the author for enlightening them on the historical facts regarding the war, and for giving a human face to the hostilities endured by the people of Biafra.

The reading and book signing event of Half of The Yellow Sun indeed reminded the Finns of their own civil war. A lady in the audience remembered how years after the Finnish civil war between the Reds and the Blues, a woman of the younger generation wrote a book about the war just like Chimamanda did and was criticised by the older generation by asking what she does know about war. There has also been some criticism made about Nigerian younger generation writers like Chimamanda, mostly from some older writers and critics like Professor Chinwizu.

At the end of the book reading and signing ceremony, Ngozi Chimamanda Adichie was hosted by the Igbo Union of Finland. During the brief creremony, the Chairman of IUF, Nze Chukwuemeka Nwosu who spoke on behalf of the union among other things thanked her for making Nigerians proud through her literary works. She was later presented with a gift by the union.

Chimamanda’s visit to Finland was well celebrated by all lovers of literature. She brought along a lot of charm and warmth to the cold Nordic European city of Helsinki, the daughter of the Baltic. Such warmth which was generated by her successful latest novel, “Half of The Yellow Sun”.

Ikechukwu Ude-Chime is a media specialist based in Helsinki, Finland.

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