"Crossroads possess a certain dangerous potency."
October 25, 2012 3:23 AM   Subscribe

How Things Fell Apart, By Chinua Achebe - 'In an excerpt from his long-awaited memoir, the inventor of the post-colonial African novel in English discusses his origins as a writer and the seeds of revolt against the British Empire.'
I can say that my whole artistic career was probably sparked by this tension between the Christian religion of my parents, which we followed in our home, and the retreating, older religion of my ancestors, which fortunately for me was still active outside my home. I still had access to a number of relatives who had not converted to Christianity and were called heathens by the new converts. When my parents were not watching I would often sneak off in the evenings to visit some of these relatives.

There Was A Country: 'A Personal History Of Biafra' is Chinua Achebe's newest book and memoir, covering from his childhood through the Nigerian Civil War / Biafran War. Achebe wrote in The Guardian: The genocidal Biafran war still haunts Nigeria
Almost 30 years before Rwanda, before Darfur, more than 2 million people – mothers, children, babies, civilians – lost their lives as a result of the blatantly callous and unnecessary policies enacted by the leaders of the federal government of Nigeria.

As a writer I believe that it is fundamentally important, indeed essential to our humanity, to ask the hard questions, in order to better understand ourselves and our neighbours. Where there is justification for further investigation, justice should be served.
One of the most anticipated books of the year, it has been reviewed in The Washington Post, The London Review Of Books, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, The Christian Science Monitor, Counterpunch, and The Financial Times. Ike Anya, author of People Don't Get Depressed In Nigeria (previously), writes a review for African Arguments.

It has also been reviewed positively and negatively by Vanguard Nigeria, reviewed in Modern Ghana, in Africa Is A Country, and Vibe Ghana.

The New Inquiry covers the some of the differences between Western and African reviews (without reading the book): There Will Be a Memoir: Chinua Achebe and Biafra
I bring all this up because if you read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Ike Anya or Chika Unigwe or Noo Saro-Wiwa or Uzodinma Iweala—all Nigerians reviewing the book in prominent American or British newspapers, for what it’s worth—you will find almost none of the personalities, dirty laundry, and petty score-settling. Why is that? Is it that Americans and Britons can’t be bothered to learn about that stuff, so it got edited out or was never written?
The Millions, in The Defeated Write History: Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country addresses the question: 'But why the long delay? Why did it take Achebe so long to write such a book?'
In a collection of his essays, Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays, 1965-1987, Achebe writes of his distance from the traditional Igbo religions, being the son of Christian converts, and how that distance helped him gain a deep understanding of them. What he writes appears to also justify the decades he’s taken to tackle the Biafran cause. “The distance becomes not a separation but a bringing together like the necessary backward step which a judicious viewer may take in order to see a canvas steadily and fully.”
posted by the man of twists and turns (10 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
What a beautifully written memoir! I marvel to read the evocative words of a man not born as a speaker of English, whose command of the language is so far beyond the vast majority for whom the language is our mother tongue.
posted by rdone at 5:21 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Chinua and his memoir have come under fire in certain quarters in Nigeria. It has to do with parts of his memoirs dealing with Obafemi Awolowo, a man that is considered to be one of the founding fathers of an independent Nigeria. Link.
posted by RedShrek at 5:24 AM on October 25, 2012

What a beautifully written memoir! I marvel to read the evocative words of a man not born as a speaker of English, whose command of the language is so far beyond the vast majority for whom the language is our mother tongue.

I think he grew up speaking English, most of my Nigerian friends did.
posted by atrazine at 6:11 AM on October 25, 2012

RedShrek, those articles and some of the comments below them make me wish Carl Gustav von Rosen was still alive.
The Biafran "War" was genocide, period.
posted by Skeptic at 6:36 AM on October 25, 2012

There's some interesting thoughts about the book's differing reviews in that New Inquiry article, but to get to it you have to hack your way through forests of mealy-mouthedness like ". . . it’s hard not to feel a kind of Igbo chauvinism seeping through. Is it actually there? I have no idea, as I said." That columnist is struggling so, so hard to make it about him. C'mon, dude.

I do agree with him that it'll be an interesting combination -- Achebe's massive international prestige and the continuing pain and sensitivity surrounding his topic. Looking forward to reading it and to reading about it.
posted by ostro at 6:54 AM on October 25, 2012


Ex-colonial British involvement in the security apparatus of various states is an on-going legacy.

Mali and Tuareg rebels is the freshest pile of corpses being sniffed at, it would seem. (Please note: the source is intentionally satirically chosen).

Africa ~ between America , the EU, Russia and China, let's hope that the 21st century colonialism is a lighter load to bear.

/tangent over.

I liked the writing style, but it appeared that he was deliberately aiming for the "old congenial father-figure" narrative. I'm too ignorant of the history to see much more.
posted by Cheradenine Zakalwe at 7:09 AM on October 25, 2012

Achebe is an amazing writer; I look forward to checking these links out tonight. I taught Things Fell Apart for years, and I never got tired to re-reading and re-analyzing it. The language is beautiful, the story tragic. And each year, I'd wonder if it wasn't a bit too subtle for ninth graders, but each year, they loved it or at least tolerated it, which is high praise indeed.
posted by smirkette at 7:15 AM on October 25, 2012

Superbly assembled post, twisty-turny dude.
posted by drlith at 7:18 AM on October 25, 2012

Interesting personal trivia related to the Biafran war. My father fought on the side of the government. My parents are from a Niger-Delta minority group who did not fancy living under Igbo rule.
posted by RedShrek at 8:47 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

It has been a long time since I read Things Fall Apart. I kept my copy and I am not able to keep many novels due to shelf space. I am going to read the memoir.

I spent a few minutes looking at internet stuff and this image (the Biafra flag) made a big impression on me. There didn't seem to be any good references on the Igbo old religion. Does anybody know of something good?
posted by bukvich at 7:37 PM on October 25, 2012

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