Olanna becomes desperate with worry about Ugwu, and is always fearing to see his body somewhere. She gets an old package from Mohammed containing soap, underwear, and chocolate. Mohammed writes about his polo game, which infuriates Olanna. Olanna hears shouting outside and sees some militia members pushing two women along, calling them saboteurs.
Olanna had defended Mohammed in the past, and she still doesn’t consider him a “vandal” or an evil man, but his distance from her suffering makes her resent him. At the same time, the Igbo persecution of suspected “saboteurs” starts to resemble the persecution of the Igbo.
Mama Oji, who is with Olanna, says that Olanna should be careful of Alice. Olanna assures her that Alice isn’t a saboteur, and Mama Oji tells Olanna that Alice sits with Odenigbo when Olanna is away. Olanna is surprised at this, but she still trusts Odenigbo.
Odenigbo’s possible affair with Alice is never really clarified. He seemed to have learned his lesson after Amala, and Alice was becoming Olanna’s friend, but this second betrayal seems almost small compared to the war.
Olanna goes to see Alice, and finds that her former admiration for her has turned to jealousy and dislike. Olanna then sees Mrs. Muokelu, who vaguely warns her to find petrol for her car, as Umuahia may fall. Mrs. Muokelo cannot say this straightforwardly, as it could be grounds to accuse her of being a saboteur. Olanna is shaken by the fact that the fervently patriotic Mrs. Muokelo has lost her faith in Biafra.
Even the patriotic Mrs. Muokelu could be accused of being a “saboteur” just for expressing doubt in Biafran victory. If anyone claims to know that a town will fall, then they can be accused of having a hand in the fall itself, and so the denial of reality perpetuates itself on pain of death.
There is no petrol at the station, and Olanna tells Odenigbo that they need to find some on the black market. He changes the subject, and is clearly drunk. Olanna remembers how he used to drink some in Nsukka – there the alcohol had sharpened his mind and given him confidence, but here it makes him silent and depressed.
Olanna and Odenigbo seemed stronger than ever at the start of the war, but the months in between have done horrible damage to their relationship. Odenigbo hardly even appears as a character anymore, as he is mostly away getting drunk at a bar. His illusions have been smashed.
Olanna uses the rest of the money her mother sent her and buys some petrol from a man in an outhouse. When she gets home there is an army jeep outside, and Kainene tells her that Ugwu has died. Olanna can only say “no” and shake her head. Kainene says that Madu told her that Ugwu’s body wasn’t found, but there were very few survivors in Ugwu’s unit and he wasn’t among them.
We haven’t seen many shows of affection between Olanna and Ugwu, but it is clear that she sees him as a member of her immediate family. The lack of real evidence of Ugwu’s death does make it more questionable to the reader.
Olanna immediately goes to the bar, pours Odenigbo’s drink onto the floor, and tells him that Ugwu has died. She yells and runs away when the bar owner comes to hug her. The next few days pass in a blur. Odenigbo stays home and takes care of Baby, and Olanna sleeps on a mat outside. She doesn’t cry, except for when she tells Eberechi about Ugwu, and Eberechi screams and calls her a liar.
We have not seen many characters’ perspectives on Ugwu, but now Adichie shows just how important he was to everyone. Olanna can’t even take care of Baby, so crippling is her grief. Eberechi also feels the tragedy of her love with Ugwu being cut off at its very beginning.
The people in the building sing for Ugwu in the yard, and Alice brings out her piano. Olanna is repulsed by Odenigbo’s presence, and feels that his drinking is somehow complicit in Ugwu’s death. The couple speaks to each other only about necessities. Olanna finds that she still cannot accept the reality of Ugwu’s death, and she still believes him to be alive but wounded somewhere.
Olanna is actually right about Ugwu, but this is also another example of the human tendency to deny reality when it is too horrible. In some ways Ugwu was like a son to Olanna and Odenigbo, holding them together, and now that he is gone they drift further apart.
One day a man comes to see Alice. He says that he is from her hometown, and he tells how the “vandals” captured it weeks before. They made everyone come out and say “One Nigeria,” claiming that they would give them rice if they did this. Instead the vandals shot them all, even the children. There is no one left in Alice’s family now.
Alice throws herself on the ground and rolls around in grief. She won’t let anyone come near her, and she thrashes with such force that the stones in the road cut her. Odenigbo comes out and picks her up, and she starts to cry on his shoulder. Olanna thinks Odenigbo holds Alice like someone who has held her before.
Alice becomes more human and sympathetic in her great suffering, though even in these moments of tragedy the personal jealousies or betrayals of love remain (regardless of whether Olanna’s suspicions are correct or incorrect).
Alice finally calms down, and the man who delivered the message says he will take her with him, as there are some people from the village in his compound. Odenigbo asks Olanna to go get the Alice’s things, but Olanna refuses and goes into her room. She eventually falls asleep.
Olanna seems to be living in a blur of grief now, and she lacks the clear, focused anger she felt after Odenigbo’s betrayal with Amala. Now his possible infidelity is only a drop in an ocean of suffering.
Olanna wakes up to the sound of shelling. She and Odenigbo hurry to the car, but it won’t start. Everyone else in the building evacuates, and Olanna won’t let anyone into their car. Odenigbo tells Olanna to start walking with Baby, but then the car finally starts. As they drive Olanna asks Odenigbo if he slept with Alice. He is silent, but then denies it. They are quiet for the rest of the drive.
We never get more of an answer than this about Odenigbo and Alice, and we never see Alice again. It seems likely that Odenigbo did sleep with Alice, but Adichie also shows how much the situation has changed from the early sixties, to the point that infidelity seems not so bad compared to other evils.
They reach Kainene’s house in Orlu and unpack their things. They have dinner with Kainene and Richard. Richard offers Odenigbo some brandy – it is the first time they have spoken since Odenigbo told Richard to stop coming to his house – but Odenigbo declines and goes to bed. Olanna follows, but the couple barely speak to each other.
Richard and Kainene’s relationship now seems much more secure—and more important—than Odenigbo and Olanna’s. The protagonists (minus Ugwu) are finally all together in one place.
Olanna then comes back out and talks to Kainene. She tells her that Odenigbo “has become somebody else,” drinking all day and possibly sleeping with Alice. She says she can’t stand to have him near her now. Kainene says that this is good, as Olanna’s previous blind devotion was “very lazy.”
In the morning Kainene and Olanna share some face cream and then go to the refugee camp. The children there are playing with pieces of shrapnel, and when Baby finds some Olanna angrily takes it away. Kainene asks her to give it back, saying that Olanna tries to protect Baby too much from life. She says that their own parents protected them too much from life.
The sisters now grow closer than ever, and we see how good they are for each other. We have never really seen them together, but now they truly seem like twins who fulfill each other. Olanna finally gets called out on her over-protectiveness.
Kainene then asks Olanna why she was always so eager to please their parents. Olanna says she supposes she felt sorry for them, and Kainene says that Olanna has always felt sorry for people who didn’t need it. Olanna realizes that this is an old resentment for Kainene. In the past she would have talked to Odenigbo about it, but now he has found a new bar and hardly ever leaves it.
Now that they are close again, Kainene seems to be airing her old resentments against Olanna, and we start to see why she was so distant for so long. Kainene clearly felt that Olanna pitied her for being less pretty and likable, and Kainene justifiably resented this.
Olanna refuses to worry about Odenigbo, but she worries about Baby and the other children. Their starvation makes them start losing their memories, and their hair starts falling out. Kainene tries to start a garden, but the soil is too dry and nothing grows. The well dries up and the doctor stops visiting. A young girl gets pregnant but won’t say who the father is.
The sufferings keep pouring onto Biafra, and they hit the children hardest of all. Even if Biafra were to win the war, they would have hardly any resources left to move on independently, and the next generation is now starved and malnourished.
Olanna and Kainene always walk home together, discussing Odenigbo and the war. Kainene affirms that Biafra will win, and Olanna believes it more when Kainene says it. Sometimes Richard joins the sisters as they sit outside, but Odenigbo never does. One evening Dr. Nwala arrives to say that Okeoma has been killed. Okeoma had said that he was writing new poems with Olanna as his muse, but no one has found any copies of them.
Kainene sees things with clear eyes – particularly the corruption of the Biafran army and government – but she is still convinced that Biafra will be victorious. This belief is perhaps the only thing that makes the characters’ suffering endurable. This is another tragedy of lost art and lost potential because of a meaningless war.
Olanna starts to scream and she grabs at Odenigbo. They enter their room and have grief-stricken sex. Afterward Odenigbo tells Olanna that she is “so strong,” which is something he has never said before. Olanna feels a “sad and unsettling peace.”
Sexuality takes many forms in the novel, and here it is an expression of mutual grief. Odenigbo’s affirmation of Olanna’s strength is out of character, but it seems to be a sign that they will be reunited.