The story returns to where it left off at Part Two. Since the air raid, Olanna now fears thunder and is very jumpy. She and Odenigbo trade all their money for Biafran currency, and Odenigbo promises that they will get their life back soon when Biafra is free. He doesn’t seem to realize how little money they have left. Odenigbo does mindless work at the Manpower Directorate, but he comes home inspired about Biafra’s greatness.
Odenigbo is merely compiling lists of names and addresses (no longer teaching mathematics and debating philosophy) but he is still overflowing with loyalty and patriotism and believes that Biafra cannot fail. Olanna has been deeply by shaken by the air raid, and her faith in Biafra slips as well.
Olanna makes Ugwu guard Baby all the time, as she heard a story about soldiers kidnapping children to work all day. Olanna makes Baby practice running to the bunker, and she has nightmares about air raids. Later Baby gets sick, and Olanna is almost relieved, as it seems to her that misfortunes should only come one at a time.
The rumor about children being forced into labor is the beginning of the Biafrans losing the moral high ground. They are justified in secession and in defending themselves, but there is then a point when they are causing more injustice than they are relieving in their efforts to remain free—echoing, to an extent, the way that Olanna’s liberating act of sleeping with Richard was also selfish and destructive.
Olanna takes Baby to the crowded hospital, and she gets in first because she speaks English. Dr. Nwala is there, and he says that they are low on medicine and have run out of antibiotics. He writes her a prescription, and says she should find someone who can trade her for some. Olanna asks her friend Mrs. Muokelu, who says she can find someone. Mrs. Muokelu says she had a vision of ancient warriors defeating the vandals. Olanna likes her because her fearlessness reminds her of Kainene. Olanna shows her a picture of Kainene, but Mrs. Muokelu says the twins don’t look alike.
Dr. Nwala was the poet Okeoma’s friend who helped Olanna after the air raid. Biafra’s unpreparedness for war doesn’t just mean a lack of weapons for its soldiers – it means a lack of food and medicine as well, which will lead to many more deaths than the fighting will. Olanna and Kainene have been separated for a long time now, but Olanna still admires her sister and looks for traces of her in others.
Baby eventually gets some antibiotics, but she stops wanting to eat. Olanna uses most of her money buying candy and treats, but Baby won’t eat anything and Olanna fears she will die soon. Mrs. Muokelu brings her some dried egg yolk, which Ugwu and Olanna think looks repulsive, but Baby eats all of it.
We start to see just how far the living situation has declined in Biafra – even the once-wealthy Olanna cannot even afford dried egg yolk for her sick child.
Olanna goes to the relief center, which used to be a girl’s secondary school. She waits with the crowds to get free food. When the gates open there is a stampede, and Olanna gets in the egg yolk line but it is gone by the time she reaches the end. The supervisor recognizes Olanna, and it turns out he was a member of the family she met at the airport years before, when she comforted the old woman who thought the plane wouldn’t stop.
One of the most common tragedies of this war is that schools are always commandeered to become relief centers or refugee camps. The government can’t even keep its citizens safe, much less educated, so the future for even a victorious Biafra looks bleak.
The supervisor, whose name is Okoromadu, sneaks Olanna some dried egg yolk as she is leaving. The next time Olanna goes to the relief center there is no food at all. Mrs. Muokelu says that it might just be the soldiers keeping the food for themselves. The next time the gates open, Okoromadu slips Olanna a tin of corned beef. Olanna is overjoyed.
The characters who appeared innocently and casually in Part 1 now return in much more critical situations. Mrs. Muokelu is devoted to Biafra, but even she can see the corruption among many of the soldiers.
A shell-shocked soldier sees Olanna get the can, and he starts to follow her home. Four more ex-soldiers join him, and one of them takes the corned beef. Olanna considers fighting them, but then recognizes that the meat “had never been hers.” She starts to cry.
Aside from all the starvation and disease, there is also a growing epidemic of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder among the soldiers who experience the horrors of war.
A couple of weeks later Mrs. Muokelu teaches Olanna how to make soap. That night Special Julius brings some palm wine and says that the British army has come to fight for the Nigerians. Then the air raid alarm goes off, and the family rushes into the bunker.
Britain is indeed supporting Nigeria with arms and money, a fact that the Biafrans seem to be trying to deny or downplay. In their devotion to Biafra they make themselves blind.
Many people are in the bunker panicking, but when the air raid ends they sing a victorious song about Biafra. That evening the alarm goes off again, and Olanna doesn’t see Odenigbo in the bunker. Olanna rushes out into the open and sees Odenigbo bent over a wounded man. She is suddenly struck by the fragility of his mortality, and she hugs him.
There is a seemingly contradictory mix of panic and patriotic confidence in these scenes. Everyone recognizes how bad the situation is in Biafra and how fragile their own lives are, but at the same time they are confident that Biafra will win the war.
The next day Olanna feels paranoid, and she wants the family to spend the whole day in the bunker. Ugwu tells her that Baby has lice, and Olanna angrily says it is from playing with “those dirty neighbors.” Olanna picks at her hair and Baby starts to cry. The Biafran national anthem comes on the radio, and then Olanna tells Ugwu to take Baby outside.
Olanna is still clinging to her old over-protectiveness about Baby, but she starts to panic because she now has no real way to protect Baby at all anymore. Everyone has been brought down to the same level—at the mercy of the war.
Olanna goes out to talk to Mrs. Muokelu, who tells her that Special Julius sells forged army exemption passes and sleeps with young girls looking for money. Olanna jumps at the sound of a door closing, while Mrs. Muoleku praises the greatness of the Biafran soldiers and the ogbunigwe bombs. She says that the Nigerians have refused to let the Red Cross bring food to Biafra, but God will help Biafra win anyway.
The corrupt side of Special Julius shows the corruption in the army itself. Mrs. Muokelu condemns the army contractor while in the same breath professing the righteousness and greatness of the Biafran army. Nigeria’s blockade against relief food is the greatest atrocity of the war.
The air raid siren goes off again, and when they come out of the bunker everyone sees that the school has been bombed. Olanna wanders through the wreckage, and notices that a piece of shrapnel has dug a beautiful-looking hole in the ground.
The bombing of the school shows that the Nigerians are not just interested in defeating the Biafran army, but also in killing as many Biafran citizens as possible.
In the early morning there is another air raid, but this time the siren doesn’t go off. Olanna rushes to the bunker. She has an out-of-body experience, and realizes that if she and all her family dies, life will still go on in the world. This feeling pushes her from fear to anger, and she decides to make her existence matter. When the raid is over she comes out of the bunker and immediately starts making soap.
Olanna comes to a time of crisis and pushes past it into independence and self-esteem, just like she did with Odenigbo’s betrayal. She is being purified by hardship, and her character keeps growing stronger.
Olanna no longer runs and panics at loud noises, and she starts teaching her students about the Biafran flag – the red is for the blood of the massacred Igbo, the black is to mourn them, the green is for coming prosperity, and the half of a yellow sun is for a hopeful future. She shows them pictures of Ojukwu and Gowon.
Adichie now fully explains the symbolism of the Biafran flag. It has its own symbolic meaning, as Olanna teaches, but it also represents Olanna’s newfound confidence and optimism, her hope in both Biafra and in her own strength.
One of her students tells Olanna that she wants to kill all the vandals, and Olanna is shaken by this. Odenigbo tells her that this is just patriotism. Odenigbo brings home some food from the Red Cross, and Olanna says they should have a dinner party. Then she and Odenigbo joyfully have sex.
Just as when she slept with Richard, Olanna’s actions of independence have unintended side effects. The war has become so central to Biafra’s identity that all patriotism also contains hatred for the “vandals.”