Biafra, a country torn due to civil war. The lives of five people are intertwined when Igbo and Hausa people fight against each other for 3 years. The period between 1967-1970, which is marked as a period of Nigerian Civil war and a country that was born for a brief period, known as Biafra.
Two daughters of an influential businessman, one Professor, known as the “Master” whose life revolves around Patriotism towards Biafra, an Englishman who comes to Nigeria to write a book and to be known as an Author and a domestic servant whose life revolves around his Master.
The story starts with a boy named Ugwu, who comes to work for Odenigbo’s house in Nassuka, where in his Master asks him to work for him and also side by side to continue his education. Ugwu’s life revolves around his Master Odenigbo and he creates a small little world for both him. He meets a lot of influential people that come under his Master’s friend circle and everyday he witnesses how much knowledge he still needs to gain. He sees that people call his Master a Revolutionary due to his strong opinions. But then a time comes when his Master falls in love and enters Olanna, his master’s muse. Ugwu feels threatened by Olanna’s existence in their home, but then settles down when he gets to know her better. Olanna has a twin sister, Kainene, who has dry, sarcastic humor and is bored of running her Father’s company. She falls in love with Richard, who is a struggling writer and comes to Nigeria to write about Igbo-Ukwu art.
Jumping ahead, trouble is taking place between Igbo and Hausa people, which has taken up the lives of including Olanna’s aunt and uncle whom she was very close too. A new Republic, called Biafra has been created by Igbo people so as to show their existence and fight for their lives. Due to rising conflicts, Odenigbo along with Olanna, their daughter and Ugwu flee from Nasukka and settle in the refugee town of Umuahia. Here in their fight for survival, as they have an acute shortage of basic necessities like food and water and on top of it, constant enemy air raids become a part of their refugee life.
When the novel goes back to 1960, we learn that Odenigbo slept with a village girl name Amala, set up by his mother who hates Olanna and thinks that she won’t be able to give a child to Odenigbo. Amala gets pregnant. Hurt by deceit Olanna leaves Odenigbo and ends up sleeping with Richard in a moment of liberation. She goes to Odenigbo and adopts the baby when Amala refuses to keep it.
Back during the war, Ugwu is captured by rebels to serve in the Biafran cause. He ends up seeing a whole new world of hunger and rape. A world where human lives come second and Biafran cause comes first, Ugwu survives the ordeal and end up being back with Olanna and Odenigbo again.
The twisted lives of these five main characters develops a simple novel into a masterpiece. Along with the storyline, the writer seems to have done extensive research and work in the field of Biafran war. One can read about many war atrocities which took place. Being a third world region, which was ignored by many at that time, Biafra has seen a very little success in being called Republic of Biafra. But when the kids were dying of Kwashiorkor and staple diet started including lizards and spiders, the Chief of Biafra stepped forward for a truce so as to save his people from dying a rat’s death.
Reader may come across many special characters like Ugwu’s love interest Eberechi, who sleeps with Biafran Army Generals to make her ends meet but loves Ugwu only. Alice, a piano player who Olanna meets in Umuahia. She lives inside her quarters only and rarely comes out. Olanna develops a special bond with her, but also doubts that she might be sleeping with Richard when she is away to collect food for Baby from Refugee camp.
The novel will keep its reader hooked till the end. There is hardly any kind of mistake which can be pointed out in this review, because it is really a masterpiece which has defined every element of 3 years of war to the detail. From the death of Olanna’s aunt and uncle to kids dying due to kwashiorkor, this novel can take anyone back to the Nigerian civil war era. One thing that a reader might face is the length of the novel along with the existence of extra characters. Depending on people’s perception, some may feel that the book should only have been about Biafra and some may feel that Biafra’s struggle should be kept to a minimum. But for me, it’s a perfect balance. Because it’s the characters only that can help you transport to Biafra through this book.