"She is waiting" : political allegory and the specter of secession in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a yellow sun
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Though the Nigerian-Biafran War has been the subject of numerous literary and other artistic representations in the four decades since its conclusion, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2006 novel Half of a Yellow Sun has recently received tremendous international attention for its treatment of the 1967-1970 conflict. Contrary to the assertions of many critics, the novel’s complex representation of the war functions as much more than a setting for a series of family dramas at the foreground. Providing a counterargument to such readings, which emphasize the personal over the political in Half of a Yellow Sun, this paper will propose and trace a political allegory legible within the characters’ personal relationships and historical circumstances. Specifically, I will argue that the relationship between two protagonists, the twins Olanna and Kainene, aligns with the relationship between (Northern) Nigeria and the Eastern Nigeria, known as Biafra between 1967 and 1970, during its attempt to secede. In the way that Kainene grows emotionally distant from Olanna, eventually stops speaking to her, and suddenly disappears, so Eastern Nigeria increasingly clashed with Northern Nigeria during the early 1960s, seceded as the Republic of Biafra in 1967, and eventually “disappeared” at the end of the war in 1970, as it was absorbed back into Nigeria. Rather than indicating a sense of finality, however, Adichie’s text refuses closure in ways that ultimately suggest an alternative both to the notion that the novel has an apolitical, purely tragic ending, and to dominant narratives about the Biafran secession’s “inevitable” failure. This reading thus intervenes in critical conversations about Half of a Yellow Sun, the Biafran state, and secession and self-determination throughout Africa. If Kainene’s disappearance does not only testify to the tragedies of war, and if her character allegorically corresponds to Biafra, then what political possibilities might her disappearance allow? Does Biafra—and in turn, the possibility of secession—remain at large too? Far from the prevalent scholarly and political rhetoric that relegates Biafra to a narrow three-year time frame, Adichie’s novel conceives of a Biafran existence beyond the pages of some finalized history.