As we work to come to an understanding as to what constitutes a particularly “Nigerian” literature, one of the things we’ve discussed is the influence of postcolonial, and postcolony, attitudes and opinions. Part of what comes with this is of course issues of migration and its effect on culture. In her essay “Of French Fries and Cookies: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Diasporic Short Fiction,” Daria Tunca suggests that because Nigerian authors have Western educations, or lived abroad in the UK or US (Adichie herself was born in Nigeria, but attended college in the US and divides her time between both places), “the concept of Nigerian literature in its broadest sense could not be dissociated from the idea of diaspora” (291). That is, Nigerian literature, for Tunca, is marked by distinct notions of displacement within and outside the nation, and of the intermingling of different cultures and ideas.
In the novel, the main characters are constantly on the move, both before, during, and after the Biafran War. Before the war, Ugwu moves away from his village and Odenigbo from his, Olanna and Kainene flit across the Nigerian landscape, and Richard goes between England and Nigeria. During the war, these characters both move physically from place to place and ideologically from Nigeria to Biafra, and through it all they run up against northern Nigerian Muslims, ignorant Americans, traditional villagers in the east, and Western educated intellectuals. All of this movement suggests, as Tunca notes, “a theme that has a particular resonance in Nigeria’s literary tradition, namely that of the cross- or multi-cultural encounter. Indeed, culture clashes in all their guises have long been an essential constituent of the nation’s fiction, from the depiction of ethnic conflicts to the examination of the legacy bequeathed by the British colonial rule in the country” (293).
It is not only the cross-cultural encounter I find interesting, however, but also the ever-present hybridity. Earlier posts have discussed Olanna’s spiritual ambivalence, for instance, or the role of education in the novel. Each of these, I think, points not to conflict, but to concurrence (Ugwu knows both answers to questions about Nigeria). In light of colonization, Tunca takes this further, claiming that “British habits are not necessarily associated with a potential leaning towards Western… values, but may, ironically enough, act as a mark of contemporary ‘Nigerianness’ despite being a legacy of colonization” (295). Despite arguments that similar instances of hybridity occur in other postcolonial fictions, I think this may be a fair assessment: that a specifically Nigerian literature is not really a reactionary postcolonial one casting off or critiquing British colonialization, or asserting tradition over modernity, but one wholly new and constructed much like the nation itself.