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Chimamanda: How my parents lost everything they owned in Biafran War

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Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian novelist-cum-feminist, has recounted how her parents lost everything they owned during the Biafran Civil War of 1967 to 1970.

The author, 42, was speaking during a session with readers of ‘Half of A Yellow Sun’, her much-acclaimed book, which explored the period through the perspective of an upper-middle-class family.

Chimamanda said, aside from the fact that both of her grandfathers died in separate refugee camps at the time, her family’s life trajectory had been sharply changed and divided after their numerous losses.

“I have to say I didn’t choose to write about Biafra. Biafra chose me. My family survived the war. My parents lost everything they owned. My brother Chucks was born during the war,” she wrote.

“I would say that my family’s trajectory was sharply divided and changed by the war.  For me, there was before the war, and after the war. I was born seven years after the war ended.

“But I always felt that it was present in our lives. Both of my grandfathers died in it and I grew up hearing about them. I think I just have always wanted to make sense of this part of my history.”

Recounting her experience writing ‘Half of A Yellow Sun’, Chimamanda said she would sometimes read about certain events and break down in tears such that depression hit when she finished the book.

According to her, not experiencing the war first-hand contributed to the resilience that had prodded her, yet, the task would later take a toll on her mental health due to personal accounts.

“Lots of research went into writing the novel. I wanted to get the facts right. I started researching Biafra when I was 12 that I wrote a terrible play about Biafra when I was 16,” the author said.

“So I’ve been reading about Biafra for a long time. But when I really felt I wanted to write the novel, I looked at archives, listened to the newspaper from that period, looked at newspaper cuttings.

“I wanted to immerse myself in that period, try and get a sense of what it felt like. Did writing Half of A Yellow Sun affect my mental health? Yes. Because this book was so much about my family.

“It was so much about what my parents and their generation went through. When researching, I would read something about a refugee camp and I would just stop and cry.

“I thought that it could very well have been when my grandfather died because they passed away in two different refugee camps. Looking at pictures was also quite tough.

“Writing the book felt like being held by something, as though my ancestors wanted me to do this. I thought, when I finished it, I would be free. But I sank into my deepest, darkest depressions.”

Onyeka Onwenu, a Nigerian vocalist and human rights activist, had claimed that another turbulence like the Biafran War of the 60s could wipe out Igbos if allowed to happen.

 

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