Last week I read the essay “Biafra and the Aesthetics of Closure in the Third Generation Nigerian Novel” by Madhu Krishnan, and I would like to revisit Krishnan’s work this week after finishing “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In the essay, Krishnan explains the end of “Half of a Yellow Sun” and says the novel is an example of third generation Nigerian fiction because it goes against our typical concept of a novel. In that convention, novels have an ending that provide closure for the narrative and for the reader, such that they “shed light, retrospectively, on the text as a whole, allowing it to mean and resonate” (186). But third generation Nigerian novels reject that, instead choosing a lack of closure that keeps readers caught in the ongoing conflict and confusion in Nigerian society after the Biafran War.
Does “Half of a Yellow Sun” accomplish this by making Kainene disappear at the end of the novel, while wrapping up everyone else’s stories? During our class discussions, it seems like perhaps we’ve had a negative opinion of Kainene up until this point: She’s colder and more businesslike than Olanna, with a quicker wit and a more closed-off personality. She seems to keep Richard at arm’s length, despite their relationship, and she has stayed rich and comfortable despite the Biafran War. But I would argue that Kainene is actually the most guiltless, sympathetic character in the novel (aside from Baby, who is a child and hasn’t had the chance to let anyone down yet). She doesn’t give into sexual temptation like Richard or Odenigbo, who cheat on their spouses; she doesn’t indulge in petty revenge, like Olanna does with Richard. She’s not as materialistic as her parents, who flee the country during the war; she’s not as naive as Richard, who throws himself so fully into the cause; and she’s not as susceptible to peer pressure as Ugwu, who rapes a woman at his fellow child-soldiers’ urging. Instead, Kainene uses her power and influence to break out of her privileged cocoon and help others, providing support and resources to refugee camps that would suffer without her. Although we may dislike Kainene’s treatment of Olanna at first, Adichie crafts the “ugly” twin into a character who may be the most noble and righteous of the bunch — and then she disappears.
By doing this, Adichie not only seems to be saying what we all know from “America’s Most Wanted” — that anyone can disappear — but pointedly exhibiting how this could happen to the best of us, disrupting what we know about the supposed relief that comes after the end of a war. “Half of a Yellow Sun” captures how abrupt the end of the Biafran War was, and that abruptness is mirrored in Kainene’s disappearance — no trace of her is ever found, just like there seems to be no “right” conclusion to the end of the war. Ethnic conflict, violence and prejudice still exist, and just like the war stifled the Biafrans’ hopes, it stifled Kainene’s life.
In Krishnan’s essay, Krishnan writes that the third generation Nigerian novel “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). In “Half of a Yellow Sun,” we get Krishnan’s suggestion two ways — not only in the novel itself, but also in the novel-within-a-novel that we learn Ugwu is writing. It’s a deft trick from Adichie that we first think Richard is writing the novel, but by the end of “Half of a Yellow Sun,” it’s clear that only Ugwu could really be its author — Richard’s outsider status could never truly allow him the insight to “remember the trauma of the past and to forge a sense of kinship and identity through their shared connection in community.” What would Ugwu write about Kainene? I can only wonder.