Narrow nationalisms and third generation Nigerian fiction
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The last decade or so, many literary critics hold, has witnessed a substantial shift in African fiction: nationalist commitments, integral to older African writers' work, have faded from younger Africans' literary visions, which often engage wide transnational networks instead. In contrast to this dominant critical narrative, however, the dissertation contends that younger writers have not rejected nationalism, but have revised it in myriad ways to meet contemporary needs. Moreover, I argue not against the existence of a transnational turn, but rather that there is an additional, local dimension, which has received little attention. In the texts I examine, withdrawals into smaller networks function hand in hand with reconfigurations of nationalism, ultimately resulting in what I term “narrow nationalisms.” To make this case, the dissertation focuses on a selection of novels by third generation Nigerian authors-those born after the country's 1960 independence-about three interrelated areas of crisis: oil conflict in southern Nigeria, the rise of cybercrime, and the so-called “brain drain.” I analyze how narrow nationalisms operate in Kaine Agary's Yellow-Yellow (2006), Helon Habila's Oil on Water (2010), Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's I Do Not Come to You by Chance (2009), Sefi Atta's A Bit of Difference (2012), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah (2013). Whether they are more about sovereignty, ideology, or belonging, the narrow nationalisms of the primary texts all contest longstanding wisdom that nationalism is about imposing ideology from above, especially as characters retreat into smaller communities from which they attempt to catalyze bottom-up, grassroots change. What, then, are the implications of Nigerian fiction's continued engagement with nationalism for the study of contemporary African literature? Further, in a country that is already fractured in terms of political control and allegiances, and in an era in which the role of the nation-state remains uncertain, what might narrow nationalisms suggest about Nigerian sovereignty? Examining narrow nationalist spaces in third generation Nigerian writing not only complicates literary critical conversations but also reveals new insight into challenges for the present-day Nigerian state-and for Africa and the global south more widely.