Half of a Yellow Sun | Study Guide

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Half of a Yellow Sun | Part 4, Chapter 28 : The Late Sixties | Summary

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Summary

Odenigbo has withdrawn from Olanna, ever since his mother's death. He forgoes work to go to the bar every day. When Okeoma pays condolences, Olanna is surprised to see Odenigbo open up. They discuss the use of white mercenary soldiers in the Biafran army, and Okeoma says he has stopped writing poetry, although he recites for Olanna a romantic poem about her. Professor Achara arrives and tells Olanna the landlord is displacing them for higher-paying renters. They move to a single room. Her fierce neighbor, Mama Oji, has lost three children to illness and says the neighbors are thieves. Olanna mourns the privation she lives in and the suffering around her, but Baby adapts happily to the constant change. The mother of Baby's friend Adanna begs Olanna for food. When Mama Oji sees, she screams, "She is not a refugee like us!" Mama Adanna replies, "But is it not you refugees who have finished all our food?"

Olanna tries in vain to befriend Alice, her secretive, piano-playing neighbor. She finds Odenigbo crying and struggling with existential concerns prompted by his mother's death. He tells her he is thinking of joining the army and solemnly spearheads the building of a neighborhood bunker, but rejects her amorous advances that evening. News of the Biafran victory in Abagana fails to enliven him. When Alice does not join in the celebration, Mama Oji says she is a saboteur. Olanna gives Alice salt and they bond instantly. Alice tells Olanna her baby died and the father returned to his wife after she left her teaching job in Lagos to be with him in Enugu.

Odenigbo brings home a gun. Olanna wants him to ask Professor Ezeka to move him to a different job, but he refuses. In the neighborhood Pastor Ambrose, an army deserter, pretending to be a priest, prays loudly and theatrically. Olanna is concerned to realize Baby now believes in spirits. Mama Oji says Adanna has kwashiorkor, not malaria like her mother insists. Olanna tells Adanna's mother she needs to find milk or crayfish, but Adanna's mother gathers antikwashiorkor leaves from the bush. Olanna gives her sardines and milk she received from Professor Ezeka.

Olanna goes to see Professor Ezeka at his house. His wife tells her, "we were supposed to leave on a relief plane, but none of them landed" because of Nigerian bombers, and that they plan to go to England on Nigerian passports. After refusing brandy, Coke, and cake in favor of cold water, Olanna tells Professor Ezeka, "Your house is surreal," and asks Professor Ezeka to request Odenigbo's transfer elsewhere. Upon her return home, Baby tells her, "Adana's mummy ate Bingo," their pet dog.

Kainene visits Olanna briefly, telling her, "I was an army contractor, and I had a license to import stockfish." She invites Olanna to visit her at the refugee camp the following week. She calls Harrison a "pretentious peasant" and when Olanna replies, "We are all peasants," Kainene responds, "Are we? It's the sort of thing Richard would say." She asks Olanna if she dreams "of that child's head in the calabash" and then tells her, "There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable." On a tour of the refugee center Olanna sees children suffering from kwashiorkor, and Kainene removes a baby clinging to its dead mother. She says she will give Olanna some protein tablets for Baby, whom she calls Chiamaka. Of the refugees at her camp, Kainene says, "Sometimes ... I hate them for dying."

Analysis

Olanna, Odenigbo, and Baby are forced into the thick of the refugee crisis in Umuahia. The room they move into is smaller and shabbier than Professor Ezeka's bunker, and they live in close quarters with people who are suffering deeply—one woman cooks Baby's pet dog to save her daughter from dying of kwashiorkor, a fatal protein deficiency. Odenigbo doesn't notice them or Olanna as he undergoes an identity crisis in the wake of his mother's death. He has lost his revolutionary zeal and fails to get excited about the ambush at Abagana on March 31, 1968, when Biafran guerillas used improvised ogbunigwe to decimate Nigerian forces. Odenigbo deals with his grief by numbing it with alcohol and avoidance.

Alice is not a saboteur, but a woman who has lost everything. She would have spent the war in Nigeria in comfort and safety raising her baby if she had not left Lagos to follow her daughter's father, a married Igbo soldier, to Enugu, against the warnings of her friends and family. Now he has abandoned her and their baby has died. Olanna is drawn to Alice, as her situation is similar in many ways. She met Odenibgo while she was living in Lagos and London, and followed him to Nsukka, where she became a refugee. Olanna had the privilege to escape to London with her parents, but chose to stay with Odenigbo. Now, after his mother's death, Odenigbo has abandoned Olanna emotionally, and Baby almost died of malnutrition. Alice, whose lot is admittedly harsher, deals with her grief by playing her piano and avoiding people—unlike Olanna, who has used her own grief to cultivate deeper relationships with others and with herself. All of Olanna's efforts at friendliness go unreturned until she wins Alice's trust by giving her salt, which is practically unavailable in Biafra as Nigerian forces, backed by the British, prevent planes carrying food aid from landing.

But not all Biafrans are starving. People in high places, like Professor Ezeka, live in a bubble of prewar comfort, sheltered from violence and starvation. Olanna is filled with resentment seeing them eat cake while Biafrans starve to death, and she refuses the refreshments they offer. Their privilege insulates them from the reality of the war. Odenigbo is too proud or distracted to request any favors from his old friend Ezeka, but Olanna is not. She no longer relies on Odenigbo to take charge of a situation.

Ikejide's death puts Olanna's transgression with Richard into perspective for Kainene. She forgives her sister and they interact with a level of sisterly intimacy they have not shared since childhood.

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