Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has died at age 82.
March 22, 2013 8:08 AM   Subscribe

"Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, acclaimed in part for his groundbreaking 1958 novel "Things Fall Apart," has died, his British publisher, Penguin Books, said Friday." Set in precolonial Nigeria, Things Fall Apart portrays the story of a farmer, Okonkwo, who struggles to preserve his customs despite pressure from British colonizers. The story resonated in post-independent Africa, and the character became a household name in the continent.

"Achebe's stories included proverbs and tackled complex issues of African identity, nationalism and decolonization, adding to his books' popularity.

He once wrote an essay criticizing Joseph Conrad, author of "Heart of Darkness," as a racist for his depiction of Africans as savages. Conrad's popularity took a hit after the accusation -- a testament to Achebe's credibility."
posted by jquinby (45 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
posted by 1367 at 8:12 AM on March 22, 2013

posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:16 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:18 AM on March 22, 2013

posted by OmieWise at 8:26 AM on March 22, 2013

posted by lord_wolf at 8:26 AM on March 22, 2013

Yam, the king of crops.
posted by jessssse at 8:28 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Achebe's fiction was an important, early part of my long journey to appreciate and come to advocate the representation of people by themselves.

posted by honest knave at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by dismas at 8:36 AM on March 22, 2013

A Man of the People was probably the best book I read in college.

posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:38 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


A great writer.
posted by bearwife at 8:42 AM on March 22, 2013

posted by Iridic at 8:42 AM on March 22, 2013

I'd never heard of him, but he got two more obits than James Herbert, so he probably deserves a
posted by Mezentian at 8:45 AM on March 22, 2013

I recall many heated discussions/debates concerning his views on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness during my undergrad. And while I did not always agree with his criticism, I definitely respected his contributions to literature.

posted by Fizz at 8:49 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

• he was one of the BEST writers ever.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:57 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by Lynsey at 8:58 AM on March 22, 2013

Read "Things Fall Apart," "Arrow of God," and "No Longer at Ease," in that order. You'll feel like you're there. The three books combine to create one long, amazing narrative. (No Longer at Ease features the grandson of Okonkwo, the hero of Things Fall Apart.)

posted by Melismata at 8:58 AM on March 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

posted by gingerbeer at 9:01 AM on March 22, 2013


Little-known fact: Chinua Achebe was the James Brown of Nigerian authors.
posted by item at 9:02 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I read Things Fall Apart in my high school sophomore year, and it has always stuck with me, even though my personal favorite is A Man of the People which is a brutal deconstruction of post-colonial politics.

posted by lineofsight at 9:02 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find many things interesting about Achebe, but having read him most closely in a postcolonial literature class, his choice to write in English was always the thing that I find most fascinating to think about. I'm gonna quote Wikipedia on it:

Use of English
As the decolonisation process unfolded in the 1950s, a debate about choice of language erupted and pursued authors around the world; Achebe was no exception. Indeed, because of his subject matter and insistence on a non-colonial narrative, he found his novels and decisions interrogated with extreme scrutiny – particularly with regard to his use of English. One school of thought, championed by Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, urged the use of indigenous African languages. English and other European languages, he said in 1986, were "part of the neo-colonial structures that repress progressive ideas".

Achebe chose to write in English. In his essay "The African Writer and the English Language", he discusses how the process of colonialism – for all its ills – provided colonised people from varying linguistic backgrounds "a language with which to talk to one another". As his purpose is to communicate with readers across Nigeria, he uses "the one central language enjoying nationwide currency". Using English also allowed his books to be read in the colonial ruling nations.
Still, Achebe recognises the shortcomings of what Audre Lorde called "the master's tools". In another essay he notes:

For an African writing in English is not without its serious setbacks. He often finds himself describing situations or modes of thought which have no direct equivalent in the English way of life. Caught in that situation he can do one of two things. He can try and contain what he wants to say within the limits of conventional English or he can try to push back those limits to accommodate his ideas ... I submit that those who can do the work of extending the frontiers of English so as to accommodate African thought-patterns must do it through their mastery of English and not out of innocence.

In another essay, he refers to James Baldwin's struggle to use the English language to accurately represent his experience, and his realisation that he needed to take control of the language and expand it. Nigerian poet and novelist Gabriel Okara likens the process of language-expansion to the evolution of jazz music in the United States.

Achebe's novels laid a formidable groundwork for this process. By altering syntax, usage, and idiom, he transforms the language into a distinctly African style.[160] In some spots this takes the form of repetition of an Igbo idea in standard English parlance; elsewhere it appears as narrative asides integrated into descriptive sentences.[161]

posted by Greg Nog at 9:03 AM on March 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


All first year students read both Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness at my college, so I too had lots discussions about this.

(I actually didn't read it during my first year, but they changed the curriculum so when I was a T.A. later on, I did. My boyfriend and I at the time of me TA-ing that course also had a mostly-joking-probably-sounds-offensive-but-was-meant-quite-loving idea to write a Things Fall Apart musical. So I have lots of weird fake songs in my head right now that I'm shocked that I remember almost 20 years later.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:12 AM on March 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

posted by ghharr at 9:24 AM on March 22, 2013

posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:24 AM on March 22, 2013

A life well-lived.

I felt weird about Things Fall Apart. It is virtuosic in it's methodical descriptions of the daily life of its protagonist, but the way it ends in basically a punch line left me with very mixed feelings. It felt like I had listened to a very long, fairly dull story to get to a manipulative "Ah-Hah!" twist at the end. I'm glad I read it but I didn't seek out much more of his stuff after doing so.
posted by latkes at 9:25 AM on March 22, 2013


It was Achebe's work that opened my eyes to non-American, non-White, contemporary(ish) global fiction. My literary world was extremely white and entirely American/British until my high school World Literature course came along with Things Fall Apart on the syllabus.

(I mean, we read other global stuff in that class, but it was mostly Moliere, and bits of the Ramayana, and classical Greek drama. The idea that non-white people outside the West were writing compelling literature NOW was very new, and is still tied up in my mind with Chinua Achebe.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:55 AM on March 22, 2013

His books were the reason I took two African Literature & History classes in college, which were some of my favorite classes and one of my favorite teachers. That in turn opened my eyes to a lot of new ideas and taught me how much I didn't know about the world and about people.

posted by gemmy at 9:58 AM on March 22, 2013


How much he opened my eyes in college.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

...Praise bounteous
providence if you will
that grants even an ogre
a tiny glow-worm
tenderness encapsulated
in icy caverns of a cruel
heart or else despair
for in the very germ
of that kindred love is
lodged the perpetuity
of evil.
- Vultures, Chinua Achebe

posted by ChuraChura at 10:24 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was one of the few people I knew who loved his books in school and was so relieved to find out in college that the dunderheads I went to HS with were not the norm. I am very sorry to see him go.
posted by orangutan at 10:28 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Fig at 10:52 AM on March 22, 2013

A long life well lived, and a legacy that will survive him.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:03 AM on March 22, 2013

Some of my favorite Achebe bits:

“When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.”
Arrow of God

“Mr. Brown had thought of nothing but numbers. He should have known that the kingdom of God did not depend on large crowds. Our Lord Himself stressed the importance of fewness. Narrow is the way and few the number. To fill the Lord’s holy temple with an idolatrous crowd clamoring for signs was a folly of everlasting consequence. Our Lord used the whip only once in His life – to drive the crowd away from His church.”
Things Fall Apart

“Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.”


“Charity . . . is the opium of the privileged.”
Anthills of the Savannah

“Privilege, you see, is one of the great adversaries of the imagination; it spreads a thick layer of adipose tissue over our sensitivity.”
Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays

He has also been quoted as saying “My weapon is literature,” which I love, but have not been able to source.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:38 PM on March 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

posted by Cash4Lead at 12:40 PM on March 22, 2013

posted by From Bklyn at 1:03 PM on March 22, 2013

posted by adrianhon at 1:21 PM on March 22, 2013

posted by luckynerd at 1:42 PM on March 22, 2013


I got chills when I learned of his passing. RIP Chinua Achebe.
posted by one teak forest at 2:33 PM on March 22, 2013

A literary and intellectual giant has passed away; what a stunning legacy he's left behind, however.
posted by smoke at 3:12 PM on March 22, 2013

posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:11 PM on March 22, 2013

posted by XMLicious at 11:40 PM on March 22, 2013

posted by Tiet Peret at 8:37 AM on March 23, 2013

The Song Of Ourselves, by China Achebe in 1990.
I did not see myself as an African to begin with. I took sides with the white men against the savages. In other words, I went through my first level of schooling thinking I was of the party of the white man in his hair-raising adventures and narrow escapes. The white man was good and reasonable and intelligent and courageous. the savages arrayed against him were sinister and stupid or, at the most, cunning. I hated their guts.

But a time came when I reached the appropriate age and realised that these writers had pulled a fast one on me! I was not on Marlowe's boat steaming up the Congo in Heart of Darkness. I was one of those strange beings jumping up and down on the river bank, making horrid faces. That was when I said no, and realised that stories are not innocent; that they can be used to put you in the wrong crowd, in the party of the man who has come to dispossess you.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:58 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Achebe interviewed by The Paris Review
If someone said, I want to translate your novel into Igbo, I would say, Go ahead. But when I write in the Igbo language, I write my own dialect. I write some poetry in that dialect. Maybe someday I will, myself, translate Things Fall Apart into the Igbo language. Just to show what I mean, though for me, being bilingual, the novel form seems to go with the English language. Poetry and drama seem to go with the Igbo language.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:36 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Granta: Chinua Achebe's Legacy
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:20 AM on April 11, 2013

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