A beautiful face on Richard and Judy show
Last week I was half-watching Richard and Judy when a film clip of an extraordinarily beautiful face grabbed my full attention.
Don't judge Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by the photo shown here. In the R& J clip she was far more ravishing. Which no doubt – the publishing world being the way it is today – is why her book Half Of A Yellow Sun is being promoted as a masterpiece.
Richard and Judy, and two guests who had also read it, went into raptures about it. Later I searched for Ms Adichie's website where I learned she was "born in Nigeria in 1977. She is from Abba, in Anambra State, but grew up in the university town of Nsukka where she attended primary and secondary schools and briefly studied Medicine and Pharmacy. She then moved to the United States to attend college, graduating summa cum laude from Eastern Connecticut State with a major in Communication and a minor in Political Science. She holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins."
It may be that Half Of A Yellow Sun is everything R&J and their guests claimed it is. But in that case why is the extract from the novel on Ms Adichie's site so un-riveting?
Here's a description of the book. "A masterly, haunting new novel from a writer heralded by The Washington Post Book World as "the 21st-century daughter of Chinua Achebe," Half of a Yellow Sun recreates a seminal moment in modern African history: Biafra's impassioned struggle to establish an independent republic in Nigeria, and the chilling violence that followed. With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade."
I wonder how many American and British readers are interested in what happened in Biafra more than 35 years ago? Yes, it was a "humanitarian catastrophe as Nigerian blockades stopped supplies from entering the region. Hundreds of thousands - perhaps millions - of people died in the resulting famine." But there have been a lot of humanitarian catastrophes in my lifetime, several happening now.
The site has an excerpt from the book but we're not told if it is the opening chapter. I hope it's not because, far from gripping the reader's attention, it lacks any of the elements required of a good first page.
Judge for yourself.
"Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair. Ugwu's aunty said this in a low voice as they walked on the path. "But he is a good man," she added. "And as long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day." She stopped to spit; the saliva left her mouth with a sucking sound and landed on the grass.
Ugwu did not believe that anybody, not even this master he was going to live with, ate meat every day. He did not disagree with his aunty, though, because he was too choked with expectation, too busy imagining his new life away from the village. They had been walking for a while now, since they got off the lorry at the motor park, and the afternoon sun burned the back of his neck. But he did not mind. He was prepared to walk hours more in even hotter sun. He had never seen anything like the streets that appeared after they went past the university gates, streets so smooth and tarred that he itched to lay his cheek down on them. He would never be able to describe to his sister Anulika how the bungalows here were painted the color of the sky and sat side by side like polite well-dressed men, how the hedges separating them were trimmed so flat on top that they looked like tables wrapped with leaves."
I see that Ms Adichie is to be one of the speakers at the forthcoming Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival at which anyone who's anyone in the publishing world will be speaking. The Festival runs from 20-25 March.
I'd love to go but can't make it. No doubt the Randolph Hotel where I stayed on my last visit to Oxford will be full of famous names. But perhaps not, Oxford being close to London.