An extraordinary novel about a time/place that I know little about except - as the author mentions through one of her characters - as the device used by Western parents to get their children to finish their dinners.
What is amazing about this novel is how Adichie creates a set of characters involved in regular domestic affairs (working, studying, falling in love, being in love, cheating or worried about cheating, finding an identity, growing up, just generally living, etc. etc.) within the context of Nigeria's civil war and the creation (and starvation) of Biafra.
Then, within the set of characters, she subtly arranges them so that they exist in social strata that we rarely see or give credit to, when conducting our armchair political analysis from afar. Ever so gently, but oh-so-directly, she explains the West's complicity in allowing a level of suffering that is almost unimaginable. Yet - she stays within the framework of a conventional, domestic drama.
She takes us back and forth in time from the pre-revolutionary early 60s to the midst of the Biafran war in the late 60s. This structure works for a whole bunch of different reasons, one of which is that the events of the novel unpeel in a way that both reveals and adds layers of complexity, with the effect that we really get to know these characters over time - without the thing bloating up to be a huge, epic, family drama. We live their history with each other, with them. We see their shifting alliances, their conflicts, their individual idiosyncrasies, their humanity.
But with each switch in time (and a couple of other devices that I'll leave you to find out) - we also see the day-to-day horror as it unfolds. Subtle details that foreshadow and then recall key events that mark each phase of each character's decline as the war unfolds.
So it is a domestic drama - very conventional - within a novel about a truly horrific series of events, with these almost surreal, grisly details shown to the reader through the eyes of these characters - privileged characters, for the most part.
We see how their relative privilege declines - how society 'evens out' in a time of great deprivation. We see, as one character says, "There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable."
Technically, I think this novel is almost perfection. But ultimately what I love most about it is how much I cared for these characters, how much I felt for each of them as their stories unfolded.
This Adichie, she can really write.