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The Morning News Tournament of Books, sponsored by Powell’s Books, is an annual battle royale amongst the top novels in “literary fiction” published throughout the year. Read more about this year’s tournament »

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The 2007 Tournament of Books is over. To view this year's Tournament, go here.


March 20, 2007

Half of a Yellow Sun


The Emperor’s Children


Claire Messud is a fantastic writer. It’s just a pity that she doesn’t seem to have anything to say. Her sentences and paragraphs are lovely, she can concisely and vividly sum up a character in a gesture, and she makes the first 250 pages of The Emperor’s Children fly by.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on the other hand, is a young writer, and it shows. The pacing of Half of a Yellow Sun is off, and chunks of the book could be removed and no one would notice. But the story and the idea of the book are tremendous, and even when the reader becomes acutely aware of just how many of the 448 pages are left, the politics and the horrors keep you going until the end.

Which takes me back to the immense readability of The Emperor’s Children. It’s rare that such a skillful prose writer comes along. Her writing is so charming, it’s difficult to pinpoint when exactly Messud either couldn’t figure out what to do with her characters or got so bored that she started to rely on stereotypes. Danielle, it seems, is successful and ambitious with her career because she’s the dumpy, less-attractive one. Julian, the gay one, is about as believable a character as Jack from Will & Grace. (By the end of the novel, I was beginning to wonder if Messud, not knowing any gay men, simply watched the sitcom for all of her research.) Each of the three characters is revealed in the second half of the novel to be empty, dull, and tedious. They’re nothing more than (barely) two-dimensional figurines that are excuses for Messud to write her pretty sentences.

I was so disappointed with The Emperor’s Children that I became bitter enough to whoop with joy when one of the three main characters is attacked and permanently scarred. In keeping with the shallowness of the rest of the book, however, of course the scar only works to make the character more handsome. So even though I wouldn’t normally consider Half of a Yellow Sun one of the best books of 2006, it’s moved on to the next round by default.

• Today’s WINNER •

Half of a Yellow Sun

• About the Judge •

Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of Her only connection to any of the writers: She once had dinner next to Brian K. Vaughan. He insulted Kansans, and she informed him she was from Kansas. He blushed.

• From the Booth •

Jessa is like like a mom to the world’s books and the ones she enjoys are all married surgeons. Kevin John The Echo Maker going out in the first round is the equivalent of Duke losing to VCU.
» Read Kevin Guilfoile & John Warner’s commentary on the match «

• The Peanut Gallery •

Do you agree with the outcome of this match?

absolutely   no way

The Standings


• Round One •

Half of a Yellow Sun v. Absurdistan
judged by Brady Udall

The Echo Maker v. The Emperor’s Children
judged by Marcus Sakey

Firmin v. Brookland
judged by Sarah Hepola

The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo v. The Road
judged by Maria Schneider

Arthur and George v. One Good Turn
judged by Kate Schlegel

The Lay of the Land v. English, August
judged by Colin Meloy

Alentejo Blue v. Apex Hides the Hurt
judged by Dan Chaon

Against the Day v. Pride of Baghdad
judged by Anthony Doerr

• Round Two •

Half of a Yellow Sun v. The Emperor’s Children
judged by Jessa Crispin

Firmin v. The Road
judged by Mark Sarvas

One Good Turn v. The Lay of the Land
judged by Maud Newton

Alentejo Blue v. Against the Day
judged by Sam Lipsyte


Half of a Yellow Sun v. The Road
judged by Elizabeth Gaffney

One Good Turn v. Against the Day
judged by Sasha Frere-Jones


The Road v. Against the Day
judged by Andrew Womack

One Good Turn v. Absurdistan
judged by Rosecrans Baldwin


The Road v. Absurdistan
All Judges + Jessica Francis Kane