How broad is the story of a single life? How intricate is its tapestry? How does a life take on the dyes of history and experience? What colours; ideological, spiritual, or even emotional, remain? What if this single life is the life of one of Africa’s greatest writers of the post-colonial era?
In The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays, a volume of essays first published in the USA in 2009 by Alfred A. Knopf, Chinua Achebe walks us through time; through his thoughts on politics and personalities; colonialism and self-identity; oppression and history and even the bias of narrative in children’s books. In this tome; light on pages but heavy with ideas are some startling insights; comical remembrances and a large measure of atypical thought. That an African seated at the front of a bus in Africa would be cheered on by fellow Africans and feel hard done by is telling. Even more telling is the case of a team of political heavyweights bringing their influence to bear on a station director all in the name of seeking to correct a supposed bias. A lot of inconvenient truth gets ignored in popular commentary on Africa particularly on the issues of economic backwardness and the language question. Achebe’s thoughts on these issues may strike some fashionable thinkers as too caustic for mention. Even more uncomfortable, for many a conscience, may be Achebe’s cut to the bone directness on what Africa’s problems really are. A potent example of how Achebe puts paid to typical assertions is in his narrative about fathers and sons “My Dad and Me”.
The writing is sharp and taut. Incisive and thought provoking all at the same time and delivered with a studied confidence, assured authority and infectious conviction. Yet this is not academic prose foreign to the experience of the everyday African. It asks the questions Africans ask of themselves every day. Questions that surround the narrative of African history, the stereotypes of nationality, and the place of language and culture in national and African consciousness. This anthology does not ignore harsh African reality’s hopeful beginnings nor does it excuse typical explanations or the many predicaments the continent faces. A headliner of African thought and enthralling narrative, it should have been longer.