Ugwu is bored one afternoon and he ignores Olanna’s warnings and sets out on the road. He rounds a corner near a church and sees a group of men being forcefully conscripted into the army. One of the soldiers sees him and shouts, and Ugwu tries to take refuge in the church, but the priest won’t let him in. The soldier threatens to shoot Ugwu if he runs, so he joins the group of men with their hands on their heads.
This section begins the climax of the book. The patriotism of the Biafrans (caused by their past sufferings during the massacres) is so strong that they can see their soldiers threatening to shoot civilians and still believe in the justice of their cause.
Ugwu’s hands are tied and he is made to walk down the road. He sees Mrs. Muokelu, and a few moments later Olanna appears. Olanna talks to the commander, and then a soldier cuts Ugwu free. He is dizzy with relief, but senses Olanna’s fury. She takes him home and says he is so stupid he doesn’t deserve his good luck. She used all her money to bribe the soldier.
Ugwu escapes this time, but it is basically inevitable that he will be conscripted eventually, as the soldiers are expending as much energy rounding up civilians to fill out the Biafran army as they are fighting Nigerians. The Biafran “cause” has turned to exploiting the citizens that Biafra was founded to protect.
Olanna acts chilly towards Ugwu for a few days, until one morning Baby is crying because Olanna won’t buy her a roasted lizard a hawker is selling. Olanna and Ugwu share a smile at the absurdity of the situation, and after that things are normal again.
Ugwu is still technically the “houseboy,” but he is also a real part of the family, one that Olanna would do anything to save. They find some laughter amidst the hunger.
While Olanna is away visiting Kainene, Ugwu overhears Odenigbo talking and laughing with Alice. The next day Odenigbo and Alice sit together on the veranda. Later Ugwu worries that Alice is in the room with Odenigbo, so he knocks to interrupt. Odenigbo is alone, but he says that Professor Ekwenugo (who had been working on weapons with the government) is dead and “blown up.”
Ugwu is still very protective of Olanna and Odenigbo’s relationship, and he tries to stop what he sees as Odenigbo having an affair with Alice. Professor Ekwenugo was a figure representing the hope and ingenuity of Biafra, so his death is especially disheartening.
Ugwu thinks about the words “blown up” and then resolves to talk to Eberechi. He goes to her house and they make up. She promises to come visit him later. Ugwu goes home, and Odenigbo comes home late and drunk. He says “my good man” and then throws up on the floor. He tells Ugwu not to mention this to Olanna.
Just like Kainene did with Olanna, Ugwu seems to decide that his anger against Eberechi is trivial in comparison to the suffering and death they are all experiencing daily. Odenigbo is truly hitting rock bottom.
Eberechi starts to come around more, and one day Ugwu finally kisses her. She kisses him back and lets him take off her underwear for a moment. Ugwu wants to tell her that he loves her, but again he can’t. Eberechi says she has to go, and Ugwu escorts her halfway home. On his way back he is caught by some armed soldiers. He runs but then falls when he hears a gunshot.
This is one of the book’s greatest tragedies – Ugwu is experiencing real romantic love for the first time, but before he can declare and experience it he is conscripted, and thrown into a world of cruelty that will corrupt his soul.
The soldiers throw Ugwu into a van with a teenager and a man in his sixties. The elderly man eventually shames the soldiers into letting him go. The soldier who seems to be in charge is a thirteen-year-old boy called “High-Tech.” The teenager conscripted with Ugwu starts to weep, and Ugwu realizes the extent of his situation – he is about to be sent to the front lines with no real training.
We now see just how desperate the Biafrans are in the war. Not only are they forcefully conscripting civilians, but they are even kidnapping children and the elderly to fight and die on the front lines.
High-Tech explains what their work will be – they are a battalion of field engineers who fight with the ogbunigwe. High-Tech does reconnaissance (which he calls “rayconzar”) to find out the location of the enemy, and then they set up their “operation.” Ugwu corrects High-Tech’s pronunciation of “reconnaissance,” which seems to win his respect.
The violence and fear the soldiers experience, combined with their lack of any accountability, makes them take on new identities and commit deeds that they never would have done at home. Thus a child with a name and family becomes “High-Tech.”
When they reach the training camp – a former primary school – Ugwu’s head is roughly shaved and he is put through a “training” of beating and mockery. None of the other soldiers have boots, uniforms, or half of a yellow sun on their sleeves. Ugwu starts to grow terrified of the “casual cruelty of this new world.”
Ugwu is told that the next operation will be soon, and he is both scared and excited. Professor Ekwenugo had made the ogbunigwe sound glamorous, but the mines just look like dull metal canisters to Ugwu. Ugwu wishes he could tell Eberechi about his experiences, and about his brutal commander who is the only one with a uniform.
Ugwu’s ideals are destroyed one by one, but he still can’t help clinging to his old desire to be a soldier for Biafra. The ogbunigwe are indeed just homemade bombs that throw scrap metal, and though they are destructive, they aren’t anything noble.
One day Ugwu finds the book Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself wedged behind a blackboard. Ugwu reads it in two days and then starts over again. High-Tech likes to sit with him while he reads, and on one day when the soldiers get no food High-Tech brings Ugwu some sardines.
Frederick Douglass’s book is a powerful narrative of experiencing racist brutality and the quest to preserve one’s identity and freedom. It is an important link between Ugwu’s plight and the plight of oppressed people everywhere.
High-Tech tells Ugwu that the Nigerians and Biafrans stopped fighting to celebrate Easter, and the two sides even got together to play cards and drink. High-Tech gives Ugwu a better haircut, and Ugwu thinks about people who shave off their hair as a “memorial to death.” Ugwu lies awake that night and imagines running home to Odenigbo and Olanna, but there is also a part of him that wants to fight, so he stays.
This tragically shows that many Nigerians and Biafrans don’t even see themselves as enemies, but only fight because they are told to. This is similar to examples of Northern and Southern soldiers in the American Civil War taking breaks from fighting and being friends off of the battlefield.
Ugwu’s first battle is at night, and he huddles in a wet trench. He buried his mine about thirty yards ahead and is now waiting for the “vandals” to approach. Ugwu hears gunfire and thinks about kissing Eberechi. He sees the silhouettes of men nearby, and he detonates his mine. He hits his target and the Nigerians are killed, and the Biafrans rush forward to strip their bodies of boots and guns.
This is the “glorious” war Ugwu had been imagining. Fortunately he is good at the kind of operations his unit performs. When he is closest to death he thinks first of Eberechi, showing just how strong his feelings for her are.
Ugwu’s unit returns to camp and they all congratulate him, nicknaming him “Target Destroyer.” For a few days he is happy, drinking and playing cards. His unit decides to go to a bar nearby. They stop a civilian car and commandeer it for “an operation,” ignoring the pleas of the couple inside, who are searching for their son. The man driving says that this is wrong of the soldiers, and a soldier slaps him until Ugwu steps in.
Ugwu now has his own new identity, “Target Destroyer,” which gives him a kind of freedom to commit terrible acts that “Ugwu” would not. We see just how corrupt the soldiers can be, abusing their power and bullying the civilians who are starving on their behalf.
The soldiers get in the car and drive to the bar. The bar girl says that they have no beer, so they drink the local gin. Ugwu is annoyed by his loud, boastful fellow soldiers. High-Tech starts to roll a cigarette and Ugwu sees that his rolling paper is a piece of the Frederick Douglass book. Ugwu slaps High-Tech, and the other soldiers pull him away. Ugwu thinks that “he was not living his life; his life was living him,” and he starts to get very drunk.
Ugwu seems to have descended into hell, and his only link to his humanity is the Frederick Douglass book. Ugwu is still very young but the war has made him world-weary and depressed, and he starts to lose all hope and faith in Biafra, or even his own humanity. He turns to alcohol like so many others during this war.
Ugwu goes out to urinate and pretends he is back in the yard in Nsukka. He hears shouting from the bar and goes back in, thinking that the soldiers and the war “tire him.” Ugwu sees High-Tech raping the bar girl as other soldiers hold her down and cheer. Someone says that “Target Destroyer” should go next. Ugwu tries to decline, but the soldiers start to tease him. He shrugs and takes off his pants. He doesn’t look at the bar girl until he is finished. She is staring at him “with a calm hate.”
This is perhaps the novel’s greatest tragedy. Under peer pressure, Ugwu gives up his humanity and joins the horror that has crushed his soul. This is a new kind of tragedy – not only being a victim of great injustice and suffering, but actually becoming so numbed that you contribute to that suffering. Ugwu falls from his first real experience of love to the ultimate corruption of love: rape.
The war continues, and Ugwu has more “operations” in the trenches. Sometimes his fear overcomes him, and he can only remember the gruesome details of battle when he is back at camp. He reads his book over and over. One day the commander drives up with a goat. The soldiers kill it and cook it, but then the commander takes all of it for himself. The next day the radio says that Umuahia, Biafra’s capital, has fallen.
The rest of Ugwu’s war experience seems like a blur after this low point of his life. He has basically dehumanized himself now, and so keeps fighting without really experiencing emotion. We see more examples of corruption among those with power in Biafra.
The soldiers feel that the war is lost, but they are cheered by a rumor that Ojukwu will be visiting. A convoy of cars and officers drive past, and the soldiers all salute. Ugwu has no interest in Ojukwo or in any of the corrupt, arrogant commanders. There is only one captain he admires, a man named Ohaeto. At the next battle Ugwu is next to Ohaeto in the trench, and is he determined to impress him. Ugwu is about to detonate his mine when he is struck by shrapnel and everything goes black.
Ugwu has basically become numb, and is probably experiencing PTSD. He has lost all of his faith and loyalty to Biafra, the war, and Ojukwu, though the other soldiers still seem optimistic. Adichie makes it seem like Ugwu has died, and she waits a long time before revealing the truth.