Since our discussion of Griswold’s article about what it means to be a Nigerian novel, I have tried to hold each of our novels up to the
light and decide, from my perspective, what textual elements speak the most of a “Nigerian aesthetic.” For me, one of the most heartbreaking, truly Nigerian moments of Half of a Yellow Sun is ironically, the one which involves the only non-Nigerian main character: Richard.
Richard’s struggle to find a place for himself in a rapidly changing Nigeria can certainly be read from a rather universal perspective: a man trying to feel at home in a new place, learning the language and customs of another country, and making friends and relationships in his confusion. Yet what I find particular to the Nigerian perspective is his desire to find belonging in the new Biafran state. Richard acknowledges that, no matter how much he loves and respects the cultural history of Nigeria, no matter how well he speaks the language, and no matter how many friends he makes, he can never become Nigerian in the eyes of her countrymen.
But for Biafra, he feels differently. Because he is present at the moment of succession, he feels ownership over the Biafran nationality. There is hope, belonging. Yet when he proclaims this identity for the first time, to the checkpoint guard on the way back to Nssuka, the guard laughs and says, “Eh, a white man who is saying that he is a Biafran!” (227) Even in his new nation, it is his color that prohibits him from becoming one of the people.
For Richard, Nigeria and Biafra are closed systems which he cannot access with the cultural capital of a native. He will always exist in relation to his skin color, in a way that he would not if that novel had been transposed to Europe, or Japan, or even a South American colony with a different history of racism and colonialism.