This paper seeks to explore the operations of radio in constructing social space and global citizens in Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Chris Abani’s Graceland. In Half of a Yellow Sun, the radio functions as an intermediary between the multitudes of characters and the oncoming Biafran Civil War. In so doing, the radio functions in Brian Larkin’s understanding of Nigerian film, as the “colonial sublime,” what he refers to as an indication of power and access in the distribution of colonial technologies. In terms of radio in relation to this colonial sublime, Larkin points to the vacillation between power and access, suggesting that the hegemonic aspects of radio give way to a vulnerability which “rests not in the thing itself but in the mind of the viewing subject,” which makes it constantly subject to change (61). Yet, I argue that the changes radio may ostensibly convey are tied directly to the workings of power which dictate those articulations. Thus, the characters in Adichie’s novel change in accordance with the views of the radio, not despite it, in their response to the rising nationalistic conflict betweenNigeria and separatistBiafra.
In Abani’s novel, radio plays a far more subtle role, evoking the hybridity of the main character, Elvis. Here, rather than political propaganda, we are presented with music in the public sphere of radio. Elvis, a purposefully named Elvis impersonator, embodies the way in which radio transforms a “whole way of life” (Larkin 68). What do we make of radio here? Rather than a recapitulation of colonial norms, Chris Abani’s Graceland demonstrates an ability of media technology to produce postcolonial subjects outside the purview of colonial hegemony. An examination between these two works should shed light on the machinations of radio as a tool of colonial subjugation and a means of creating modern subjects.