1. Ugwu is only thirteen when he begins working as a houseboy
for Odenigbo, but he is one of the most intelligent and observant
characters in the novel. How well does Ugwu manage the transition
from village life to the intellectual and privileged world of his
employers? How does his presence throughout affect the reader's
experience of the story?
2. About her attraction to Odenigbo, Olanna thinks, "The
intensity had not abated after two years, nor had her awe at his
self-assured eccentricities and his fierce moralities" [p. 36].
What is attractive about Odenigbo? How does Adichie poke fun at
certain aspects of his character? How does the war change him?
3. Adichie touches very lightly on a connection between the
Holocaust and the Biafran situation [p. 62]; why does she not
stress this parallel more strongly? Why are the Igbo massacred by
the Hausa? What tribal resentments and rivalries are expressed in
the Nigerian-Biafran war? In what ways does the novel make clear
that these rivalries have been intensified by British
4. Consider the conversation between Olanna and Kainene on pp.
130-131. What are the sources of the distance and distrust between
the two sisters, and how is the rift finally overcome? What is the
effect of the disappearance of Kainene on the ending of the
5. Discuss the ways in which Adichie reveals the differences in
social class among her characters. What are the different cultural
assumptions-about themselves and others-made by educated Africans
like Odenigbo, nouveau riche Africans like Olanna's
parents, uneducated Africans like Odenigbo's mother, and British
expatriates like Richard's ex-girlfriend Susan?
6. Excerpts from a book called The World Was
Silent When We Died appear on pp. 103, 146, 195, 256, 296,
324, 470, and 541. Who is writing this book? What does it tell us?
Why is it inserted into the story in parts?
7. Adichie breaks the chronological sequence of her story so
that she can delay the revelation that Baby is not Olanna's child
and that Olanna had a brief liaison with Richard. What are the
effects of this delay, and of these revelations, on your reading
8. Susan Grenville-Pitts is a stereotype of the colonial
occupier with her assertion that "It's quite extraordinaryÉ how
these people can't control their hatred of each other. . . .
Civilization teaches you control" [p. 194]. Richard, on the other
hand, wants to be African, learns to speak Igbo, and says "we" when
he speaks of Biafra. What sort of person is Richard? How do you
explain his desires?
9. Adichie makes a point of displaying Olanna's middle-class
frame of mind: she is disgusted at the cockroach eggs in her
cousins' house reluctant to let Baby mix with village children
because they have lice, and so on. How is her privileged outlook
changed by the war?
10. The poet Okeoma, in praise of the new Biafra, wrote, "If the
sun refuses to rise, we will make it rise" [p. 219]. Does Adichie
seem to represent the Biafran secession as a doomed exercise in
political na•vet? or as a desperate bid for survival on the part of
a besieged ethnic group? Given the history of Nigeria and Britain's
support during the war, is the defeat of Biafra a foregone
11. The sisters' relationship is damaged further when Olanna
seduces Richard [p. 293]. Why does Olanna do this? If she is taking
revenge upon Odenigbo for his infidelity, why does she choose
Richard? What does Kainene mean when she bitterly calls Olanna "the
good one" [p. 318]?
12. How does being witnesses to violent death change people in
the story-Olanna, Kainene, Odenigbo, Ugwu? How does Adichie handle
descriptions of scenes of violence, death, and famine?
13. What goes through Ugwu's mind as he participates in the rape
of the bar girl [p. 457]? How does he feel about it later, when he
learns that his sister was also gang-raped [pp. 497, 526]?
14. The novel is structured in part around two love stories,
between Olanna and Odenigbo and between Kainene and Richard. It is
"really a story of love," Adichie has said (Financial
Times, September 9, 2006). How does Adichie handle romantic
and sexual love? Why are these love plots so important to a novel
about a war?
15. The story begins as Ugwu's aunty describes to Ugwu his new
employer: "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" [p. 3]. It ends
with Ugwu's dedication of his book: "For Master, my good
man" [p. 541]. Consider how Ugwu's relation to his master has
changed throughout the course of the story.
16. How is it fitting that Ugwu, and not Richard, should be the
one who writes the story of the war and his people?
17. In a recent interview Adichie said, "My family tells me that
I must be old. This is a book I had to write because it's my way of
looking at this history that defines me and making sense of it."
(She recently turned twenty-nine, and based parts of the story on
her family's experiences during that time and also on a great deal
of reading.) "I didn't want to just write about events," Adichie
said. "I wanted to put a human face on them" (The New York
Times, September 23, 2006). Why is it remarkable that a woman
so young could write a novel of this scope and depth?