Friday, 23 October 2009

May We Always Remember: Half a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

So I'm in Canterbury, in a B&B, the day before the start of the tw0-day Global Youth Cultures conference I'm working on. I've just had curried goat at the local Caribbean restaurant, during which I finished Half A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Following last night's television "event" I could link from this rundown of my day to a celebration of a globalised post-national identity. But somehow, it doesn't seem appropriate, because I am thinking of Biafra.

The short-lived nation of Biafra (pronounced Bee-Afra) seceded from Nigeria in 1967 and existed in a state of war for three years before starvation and the brutalities of war brought the infant nation was reabsorbed into Nigeria. Ngozi Adichie's epic novel traces the courageous stories of a group of Biafrans during this period, and in doing so, reveals the history of a nation that now endures only in memory, and words.

I came to this novel in a roundabout way. I was doing my regular internet trawl for material on Bangladesh, when I stumbled upon a review of Half A Yellow Sun in which Bangladesh was mentioned. The two secessionist struggles occurred in parallel in the late 1960s, but with radically different outcomes, leading to a series of political science papers that used the two as comparative case studies upon what it takes for a nation to succeed. The "case" of Biafra, seen as a "failure;" the "case" of Bangladesh, a "success."

I meant to read this novel as research, but at some point during reading, my "postcolonial-theoretical" mind shut down. It seemed somehow disrespectful to Ngozi Adichie's magnificent act of remembrance, to immediately unpick it in terms of narrative technique or the representation of gender. Instead, I kept thinking of these two groups of people, Biafran and Bengali, fighting and dying to bring their nations into being and to keep them alive, thousands of miles apart. I thought also of others: Algerians, Vietnamese, Palestinians. With each page, postmodern critiques of nation rang hollower and hollower.

The horrors of war and starvation, and the courage and resourcefulness of a people in spite of them, brought to mind many stories I've read of Bangladesh. And it makes me consider what things would have been like if that war, so close to my heart, had turned out differently. I would, perhaps, be a British Pakistani right now, with a green and red flag stowed away in a suitcase, my soul, under occupation. And in turn, I wonder how it must be to be Igbo in Nigeria today, to have known autonomy, and then to go back to being a minority - but now more exposed and scrutinised than ever before.

I realise this isn't much of a review. I haven't spoken about the plot in anything but the most general terms, I haven't mentioned a single character. But perhaps it is testament to the novel that this is so (especially given that the last time I was so stunned by a novel, it was with Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, a novel so great I could never bring myself to write about it). But I will write on it, and, I hope, from it. Like Guillermo de Toro with Pan's Labyrinth, with Half A Yellow Sun, Ngozi Adichie has also shown me a way of telling history that one day I hope will inspire me to write Bangladesh's story, just as Achebe and Chinodya guided her.

Sometimes, I find the work of picking apart books to be so remote from the world that it depresses me. Sometimes theories that justify humanities research in terms of ways to comprehend the complexities of that world only seem like empty funding-application-speak, merely to justify our salaries. And then I read books like Half A Yellow Sun, and remember.

Monday, 12 October 2009


So here I am, playing the proper commuter and mobile-blogging on my Blackberry on my 2 hour commute home from university. (When I assumed thar Canterbury couldn't be too far from Surrey because it was a Home County, I was a tad mistaken). So I thought I'd try to make good use of the time.

I haven't done a simple Good/Bads type post this month and it is one that works without pictures so here goes:


Chilli Paneer
Bartimaeus introduced me to this at Wembley's legendary Sakoni's a few months ago and I ate it again this weekend when we went to the Diwali festivities. It is one of tastiest things ever and I could easily get as addicted to it as Chinese roast duck and Bengali dried fish curries!

Winter coat
Today's the first day I've worn my purple empire line Comptoir de Cotonniers coat and I still love it so much. It reminds me of my trip to Paris and Berlin last year where I saw so many girls wearing it, I felt I was part of some secret club of chic.

New phone
My purple Blackberry 8520! I've had a hideous phone for 2 years and it is such a relief to finally be rid. I'd have loved to get an iPhone as a lover all things Mac but the BB is better for work.

X Factor Live Shows
Although I don't think the quality's as good as last year (I mean, just HOW good was Alex last night!) I still enjoyed the show on Saturday and it is only going to improve.

My friend, who's the closest thing to an elder sister I have, got engaged on Friday! And two of my Oxford friends also took themselves off to a registry office and got married. I'm just so happy for all of them!


Predictive text
QWERTY keyboards are a revelation!

Train journeys
Yup, getting sick of them already. And expensive! So glad I only have to do them a couple of times a week.

Disappearing winter accessories
The reason I can't bring myself to buy cashmere gloves. I lose my hats, scarves and gloves every year! I always vow to put them in a labelled box at the start of spring but it never happens...

Neglecting friends
I've been so busy getting to grips with my new job and the commute that I've not seen or spoken to any of my friends for ages. But I"m determined to change that this week!

I'm carting my books to work in my old trusty Eastpak and I look like a fresher! But there's no stylish lightweight alternative I can find that won't involve back or shoulder pain. All suggestions welcome!
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


Etsy is fairly well known now - but those of you who aren't familiar with it, it is an electronic marketplace for sellers and buyers of handmade and vintage goods, and truly addictive for those who are looking for items beyond the ubiquity of the high street. There are thousands of sellers from all around the world who post their crafting magic on this site, and there are some beautiful, original pieces to be found. However, the sheer number of sellers can make it tricky to find things if you're not looking for something very very particular! It can be quite overwhelming to navigate, but slowly becomes engrossing - and then costly!

Over the last two years of trawling I have accumulated some favourite shops, so I thought I'd share them with you. I've had custom pieces made (particularly wonderful for gifts that are truly unique and personal). It's not quite as good value as it was when sterling was stronger (those were the days, sigh) but if you consider that a lot of the items still retail at Accessorize-level prices but are beautifully handcrafted, and often feature genuine gemstones and precious metals, it is still very reasonable indeed.


Bina is my favourite jewellery seller on Etsy. I love her pretty, dainty designs and own several pairs of earrings in this style, which I've worn and worn (I like a little drop on an earring in daytime, it's very flattering but not too OTT, but it seems you can only get studs or Pat Butchers on the high street!) Bina made me some custom versions with colour combinations I dreamed up whilst doing my PhD, and she was so helpful and patient with my fussiness. I've given several of her pieces to dear friends as gifts. She often has discount codes and always has free shipping so can't be beaten on prices either.


Last summer, I desperately hankered after the Prada SS08 collection (it still tugs at my heartstrings now). As well as the beautiful dresses, I adored and coveted the Fairy print tote. In my quest for alternatives, and following a tip-off from a friend, I stumbled upon this magical seller, who transforms gorgeous storybook illustrations into even-more gorgeous bags. Now, it saddens me to admit I don't own one of these bags, but I did buy one of the silk Alice pouches for a friend who did as I recommended and wore it to a wedding. Smug Rabbit. I love the Alice bags in particular, but the botanical and Japanese fairy images are stunning too.


This was another post-Prada find, again on the fairytale theme (though it's also theorist Barthes' fault though - I remember reading about his idea of fashion-as-text on my Greek tragedy course as an undergrad, and it has stayed with me - but a longer post on that to come). I love Madewithlovebyhannah's skirts, which she sews and screenprints herself. The fairytale, apple and winter woodland skirts are all favourites, but I only own the green fairytale forest one so far.


I've not bought from this seller yet (I've got a strict spending ban on at the moment!) but aren't these fascinators just stunning? They beat any of the high street offerings hands down in terms of quality, detailing and colours. It's going to be my first stop the next time I've got a wedding to go to!

So, there you are. I have many, many more sellers in my favourites folder, but I think I'll leave those for another day. In the mean time, happy Etsy shopping!