When the book opened with a houseboy from the village, an intellectual Master,a live-in girlfriend and a politically troubled nation, having read Reef just last week, I wondered if this was going to be the same thing all over again. But the similarity ended there.
Set in the sixties, the book takes you from Nigeria to the three years of Biafra and back to United Nigeria again. The first half that meanders through the the lives of Olanna and her ‘revolutionary’ lover Odenigbo, Kainene and her Englishman lover Richard and the houseboy Ugwu’s simple world. And then, in the second half, the harsh reality of war hits you hard. One of the things that touched me the most was the bond between Ugwu and his employers, a bond that remained strong, grew and was totally unselfish throughout the horrors of the war. Olanna comes out as a martyr sometimes, dealing with Odenigbo’s unfaithfulness and his breakdown, but you don’t feel any anger towards him nor do you feel sorry for her. It is a relationship where you don’t take sides. To me, Kainene somehow came across as cold and unfeeling, but as the war progressed, I realised that it was strength, a much needed strength in a group helpless people and not indifference. Richard was one of the weakest characters in the book, a man without an identity of his own. An Englishman who felt Biafran, Igbo and African all at once, but who could never actually fit into any of those worlds.
The book leaves you dealing with the horrors of war. Rape, starvation, selfishness, cruelty and corruption. And in the end, it leaves you wanting. Hoping.