The loss of Kainene at the end of the novel, particularly the other characters’ reactions to her disappearance, mirrors the loss of the Nigeria-Biafra War. The other characters fluctuate between feelings of hope and certainty and of fear and loss, both about the war throughout the book and about Kainene’s disappearance at the end. Richard and Olanna seem to be the last people to give up hope of finding Kainene and accepting that she is gone. They are also the two characters who seem to believe — or perhaps need to make themselves believe — up until the end that Biafra will succeed.
Richard is aggravated by the missing person advertisement Kainene’s parents posted in the papers. He says that “it was oppressive, as oppressive as Aunt Elizabeth telling him to ‘be strong,’ her voice warbly over the phone, as if there were something she knew that he did not. He did not need to be strong for anything. And Kainene was not missing; she was just taking her time before she came home” (535). Richard still holds onto the prospect of Kainene’s return even after his months of searching have produced no results. Seeing her missing person add angers him because it both affirms that she is missing — not by choice — and opens up the possibility of her never returning. He no longer reads the newspapers so that he does not have to face the “oppression” of these realities being forced upon him by others. In a similar way he avoided leaving their home in Port Harcourt because he felt that as long as he stayed Port Harcourt would remain intact. Leaving Port Harcourt for any amount of time reinforced his fears of having to leave it permanently, and staying allowed him the hope of hanging on both to his home and to the continued idea of a victorious Biafra.
In the last chapter, “Olanna’s moments of solid hope, when she was certain that Kainene would come back, were followed by stretches of raw pain, and then a surge of faith would make her hum under her breath, until the downward slide came and she would crumpled on the floor, weeping and weeping” (538). Olanna clings desperately to the remote chance that Kainene is still alive somewhere, and yet her instances of darkness and weeping show that part of her knows her sister is gone. During the war Olanna continuously fills herself with hope that Biafra will win the war. Even during times where there is no food and she is living under terrible conditions, and witnessing the intolerable conditions of those in the refugee camps, she still makes efforts to educate the children about Biafra and the war efforts. She still sings with the neighbors and rejoices over radio broadcasts. Her turn to the medicine of the dibia at the end illuminates both her unrelenting hope and an inner awareness that Kainene is gone. Olanna refused to believe in the magic of the dibia or of spirits or other beliefs of the Igbo people throughout the book. I think that deep down she knows that these things will not produce her sister’s return, but she must try anyway.