The narrative now follows Olanna, who is driving with Odenigbo to the airport and listening to High Life music. She is about to fly to her parents’ home in Lagos. Odenigbo drops her off and Olanna thinks about how exciting their relationship still is. At the airport Olanna talks to a rural family waiting for their brother to return. He was the first family member to go overseas. The plane lands and the family’s grandmother panics, thinking that the plane won’t stop, but Olanna holds her hand and comforts her.
The book’s structure will continually move from Ugwu to Olanna to Richard (divided by chapter), with a kind of free indirect discourse that narrates the action but also incorporates the central characters’ thoughts. All these innocent situations and characters will return in a more tragic manner later. Here we see more of the class divides in Nigeria.
Olanna then has to get on her own flight, and the man sitting next her compliments her beauty. Olanna knows that the confident Odenigbo laughs at her many admirers, and decides to tell Odenigbo about this man on the plane. She remembers how she first met Odenigbo. She had been in a serious relationship with a man named Mohammed at the time, and one day she was waiting in line for the theater. The ticket seller let a white man go ahead of her, and Odenigbo called him out for this loudly. Olanna was immediately attracted to him and said “well done,” and Odenigbo introduced himself. Since then she and Odenigbo had been together, but only for brief visits at a time. She is nervous about moving in with him.
Olanna is also an Igbo, but her ex-boyfriend Mohammed is a Hausa (one of the other main tribes of Nigeria), who are almost all Muslim. Olanna is very wealthy and beautiful but she lacks confidence in her own identity, and so she is immediately attracted to Odenigbo’s confidence and willingness to speak his mind. We see Odenigbo’s revolutionary spirit here too, as he shames a fellow Nigerian for flattering the white oppressor.
That night Olanna has to have dinner with her parents and Chief Okonji, the finance minister. Her twin sister Kainene is there too. They have a fancy meal and the family laughs at all of Chief Okonji’s jokes, as Olanna’s father is trying to get a building contract from him. Chief Okonji offers Olanna a job in his department, but she tells him that she is moving to Nsukka soon. He then turns to Kainene, who says that she will be managing the family business in Port Harcourt. Olanna looks at her sister and wishes that they were still close.
Olanna’s family is a member of the upper class, and she is even wealthier than Odenigbo. Her family is newly rich and her parents act shallow and vain in their luxury, but they somehow still raised two independent, intelligent, well-rounded daughters. The twin sisters will become a kind of microcosm for Nigeria itself. They have already begun drifting apart.
Chief Okonji invites the family to his house for the weekend, and Olanna realizes that he has been promised an affair with her in exchange for the building contract. She coldly declines, and her parents look disappointed. After dinner Olanna goes onto the balcony and Chief Okonji confronts her. He drunkenly tries to seduce her but she pushes him away and leaves.
Olanna is again treated as a sexual object, and this time by her own parents. It is this kind of objectification that has kept her from being confident in her identity. She will not flatter Chief Okonji and succumb to him, but she still doesn’t want to disappoint her parents either.
Later that night Olanna’s mother comes to her room and praises Chief Okonji’s expensive lace. She finally asks about Odenigbo, and questions Olanna’s decision to move to Nsukka. Her mother is clearly disappointed, but Olanna is firm. She feels that she is always disappointing her mother with her rebellious ideals and her refusal to marry rich businessmen.
We start to see more of the shallowness of Olanna’s parents, and how different they are from Olanna herself. Olanna’s mother is also very beautiful and has been treated as an object all her life, but she has succumbed to this worldview.
Kainene then comes to Olanna’s room and sarcastically discusses Olanna being used as “sex bait.” Kainene says that her boyfriend Richard is moving to Nsukka as well, and she asks Olanna to introduce him to her “revolutionary lover.” Olanna has never liked Kainene’s English boyfriends, but she likes Richard because he is shy and not condescending to Africans. Olanna tries to make small talk but Kainene leaves. Olanna thinks about how they used to be close friends. Lately they have drifted apart, and Kainene always rejects Olanna’s offerings of friendship.
Olanna is always trying to please her parents even as she wants to assert her own independent desires, while Kainene has no problem speaking her mind and being rude and sarcastic. Olanna admires her for this, while Kainene is still jealous of Olanna for being more beautiful and “the good one.” We have seen Ugwu almost worshipping Odenigbo, but Kainene mocks him.
Olanna takes a train to Kano, a town in the North, to visit her Uncle Mbaezi and Aunty Ifeka. They are poor but very welcoming, and Olanna prefers their company to her own parents. She joyfully greets her cousin Arize, and as she enters the house she feels that no matter what else might happen in her life, everything will always be in the proper order here in Kano.
Adichie shows disparities in culture and class even among Igbos within the same family. Mbaezi and Ifeka are not as poor as Ugwu, but they still live a totally different kind of existence from Olanna’s parents’ lavish Western lifestyle. The order of Kano will be tragically destroyed later.
Olanna’s family’s friend Abdulmalik, a Hausa man who makes slippers, gives Olanna some slippers and invites her to his house on her next visit. Arize gossips with Olanna, saying that she wants to marry a man named Nnakwanze and have children. She laments that Olanna’s old boyfriend Mohammed was a Hausa, because he was so good looking.
In this first section of the book, we see Igbo and Hausa living peacefully alongside each other – Abdulmalik is friends with Mbaezi, and Olanna dated Mohammed. But there are still underlying prejudices, as Arize assumes she could never marry a Hausa.
That night Olanna lies awake thinking – the family here in Kano all lives in one room, so the children must have heard their parents making love. She contrasts this with her own parents, who now have separate bedrooms and a house with ten rooms. Olanna thinks that her parents’ life seems artificial and shameful compared to life in this village.
Olanna has grown up privileged and so she pities her poor family, but she also sees that their marriage and family life is much more sincere than her own parents’. Kano is a place of idealized order and wholeness for Olanna.
The next day Olanna goes to visit Mohammed, her ex-boyfriend. Mohammed’s family is very wealthy, and Olanna first passes by a guard at the gates of their home. She and Mohammed are still friends, and they banter with each other. Mohammed implies that he is still in love with Olanna, but he teases her about Odenigbo. She remembers how she broke up with him immediately after she met Odenigbo.
Kano is predominantly Hausa, and Mohammed is an example of the Hausa upper class in the North, as Olanna’s Igbo family is from the South. Mohammed seems more liberal and accepting than many of the other Hausa in the book – perhaps because he has grown up so privileged.
Olanna asks Mohammed to take her for a drive around the city, and he jokingly says she is like the white people who “gawk at everyday things.” Olanna greets Mohammed’s mother, who is friendly to her now that she isn’t dating her son and threatening to taint his lineage “with infidel blood.” They get in Mohammed’s car and Olanna declares that she is not like white people. Mohammed reassures her that she is a “nationalist and a patriot,” about to marry a “freedom fighter.”
We see more innocent examples of dislike between the Hausa and Igbo. Even though Mohammed and Olanna are friends (and were once in love), Mohammed’s mother would have opposed their marriage because of tribal and religious prejudice. Olanna went to university in London, and so she fears becoming an outsider in her own country.
When Olanna finally moves to Nsukka, Odenigbo has to leave the next day to attend a conference about the black American mathematician David Blackwell. Olanna gets her own apartment but she plans to stay at Odenigbo’s house most of the time. Olanna decides to stay at the house and adjust while Odenigbo is away. She changes some things that disturb Ugwu, like switching the fake flowers at the table for real ones from the yard. She notices that Ugwu has the habit of saving everything, even things he could have no possible use for. She wonders what he thinks of her.
Olanna’s move to Nsukka is already a statement of her independence, as her parents don’t approve of Odenigbo and would prefer her to work with Chief Okonji or her father. The first two protagonists finally meet, and we see Olanna’s side of her initial arrival at Odenigbo’s house. Adichie often uses this device of moving backward and forward in time between her quasi-narrators, showing different perspectives on the same event.
When Odenigbo returns Olanna feels suddenly joyous, and like the house is really hers now. They immediately have sex, and afterward Odenigbo’s usual visitors arrive. He introduces Olanna to Miss Adebayo, who calls her “illogically pretty,” and to Okeoma, and who calls her a “water mermaid.” After dinner they argue about philosophy and the genocides of history, and Olanna feels like an outsider.
We never get Odenigbo’s point of view, and his way of life is already established when the novel begins. Ugwu and Olanna must both then adjust to it – Ugwu to its luxury, and Olanna to its radicalism. Odenigbo and his friends casually debate about genocide now, but soon it will become a horrible reality.
Weeks pass and Olanna starts to settle in. Odenigbo teases her that Okeoma and Dr. Patel are both falling in love with her, and Okeoma starts reciting poems about goddesses that look like her. Miss Adebayo, however, seems to think Olanna is unintellectual, too pretty, and “mimicking-the-oppressor” with her English accent. Olanna tries to contribute to their discussions and impress her, but finally she recognizes that Miss Adebayo will never like her no matter what. Olanna remains strongly in love with Odenigbo, but she rejects his offers of marriage, as she wants to preserve their exciting relationship.
Olanna has an insecurity (like with Mohammed earlier) that she is “like white people,” as her life has basically followed a Eurocentric path. Now she is surrounded by intellectuals opposing colonial influence and exploitation, and Olanna feels almost like a traitor. Miss Adebayo is probably jealous of Olanna (it is implied that she had a romantic interest in Odenigbo), but this jealousy appears as condescension towards Olanna.