I may have spoiled myself by reading the essay “Biafra and the Aesthetics of Closure in the Third Generation Nigerian Novel” by Madhu Krishnan, published in Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, Vol. 2.2, in 2010. Krishnan discusses and analyzes “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and three other Nigerian novels, Chris Abani’s “GraceLand,” Uzodinma Iweala’s “Beasts of No Nation” and Helon Habila’s “Measuring Time.” In the essay, Krishnan explains the end of “Half of a Yellow Sun” and the end of “GraceLand,” effectively ruining those two novels for me, since I haven’t finished “Half of a Yellow Sun” and of course haven’t started “GraceLand.” But Krishnan’s essay also illuminates a variety of issues about Nigerian literature that helped me better understand the narrative course of “Half of a Yellow Sun” (I’m currently on Chapter 26) and prepared me for the novel’s conclusion.
According to Krishnan, “Half of a Yellow Sun” is an example of third generation Nigerian fiction, a genre that goes against our typical convention that novels must have an effective ending that serves as a conclusion for the narrative — they are what “shed light, retrospectively, on the text as a whole, allowing it to mean and resonate” (186). In the third generation Nigerian novel, however, narratives don’t cleanly wrap up, disallowing the reader to move on from a story. The country we know as Nigeria has been “repeatedly violated by colonialism, sectarian violence, ethnic conflict and military intervention after military intervention” (193), and to expect a happy ending in such a place is irrefutably naive, Krishnan argues. By refusing to finish the story in a tidy way, instead choosing to “end with conflicts hung in stasis and characters suspended in time” (186), the third generation Nigerian novel keeps readers involved in the text and considering the current state of Nigeria, forcing a “lasting engagement with history and its effects” (186). While reading this beginning part of Krishnan’s essay, I immediately agreed: I’m not finished with “Half of a Yellow Sun” yet, but I’ve been reading more about Biafra as a result of it, and I have already begun to wonder whether the war’s civil war narrative will wrap up in a way that ensures the happiness of Olanna and Kainene or summarily rejects it.
Later on in the essay, Krishnan explains how the first generation Nigerian novels were largely realist texts projecting Africa’s “usable past” (186), while the second generation doubted nationalist fervor and the idea that Africa was a successful continent. The third generation seems to somewhat combine the two, discussing what Nigeria could have been capable of and what stifled its ambitions. To Krishnan, the genre “represents the striving of a younger generation to remember the trauma of the past and to forge a sense of kinship and identity through their shared connection in community” (187).
We certainly see the trauma in “Half of a Yellow Sun,” when the violence against the Igbo begins to hit close to home for Olanna and Kainene, who until then had lived in privileged academic and business worlds, respectively. The civil war thrusts them out of that bubble of wealth and prestige and into a present that undermines them based on their physical features and ethnic identities, a “dehumanization of war” (190). But how much further will Adichie take this attack on what we’ve become accustomed to, this reversal of Olanna’s and Kainene’s fortunes, successful romantic relationships and respected upper-class status? To fit into Krishnan’s analysis of “Half of a Yellow Sun” as a third generation Nigerian novel that exposes “the inherent falsity of the notions of completeness, logic and sensibility” (193), something must go terribly, inexplicably wrong to throw the narrative completely off and deny us any closure — and until I reach the end of the novel, I’ll certainly be voraciously reading to figure out what it is.