Death has robbed us of Chinua Achebe – one of the most influential writers of his time. Undoubtedly Africa’s best known writer, Achebe stood for many things. To many, he was the father of African literature – recognized worldwide for his book, Things Fall Apart, the most translated African work of all time, which has sold more than 12 million copies and appeared in over 50 languages.
Achebe was the founding editor of the African Writers Series, a series of books by Heinmann that introduced some of the most important African writers of the post-independent era, including Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Steve Biko, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nadine Gordimer, Buchi Emecheta and Okot p’Bitek.
Achebe, who passed away on March 21, 2013, leaves a legacy as a writer, activist, and proud son of Nigeria and Africa as a whole. In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize for Fiction. Achebe spoke passionately against the biased representation of Africa by the western media, and drew attention to the place of language and culture in national and African consciousness. Africa Book Club takes a look at some of Achebe’s best known books. Rest in peace, Achebe.
Things Fall Apart (1958)
Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.
― Quotes from Things Fall Apart ―
“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
“A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”
“Then listen to me,’ he said and cleared his throat. ‘It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme. Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring your mother a heavy face and refuse to be comforted? Be careful or you may displease the dead. Your duty is to comfort your wives and children and take them back to your fatherland after seven years. But if you allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they will all die in exile.”
“Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.”
“When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk”
“Among the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”
“The world is large,” said Okonkwo. “I have even heard that in some tribes a man’s children belong to his wife and her family.”
“That cannot be,” said Machi. “You might as well say that the woman lies on top of the man when they are making the babies.”
No Longer at Ease (1960)
Achebe’s second book, No Longer at Ease, tells the story of Obi Okonkwo, a young man who returns home to Nigeria, after his studies in England. Eager to make a difference in his newly independent home country, Obi finds that he has to balance his career ambitions, with the expectations of his family and tribe mates.
A Man of the People (1966)
Chinua Achebe’s fourth novel, A Man of The People, is a book of political, social, economic and moral contrasts. Written in first person, the books invites readers to experience the flow of emotions, fears, tensions, suspense and the pain that Odili, the main character in the book, undergoes.
African Short Stories (1987)
Published by Heinemann and edited by Chinua Achebe and C.L Innes, African Short Stories is a collection of short stories written by writers from different parts of Africa and edited by the Nigerian celebrated author Chinua Achebe and C.L Innes. The range of stories in this collection is diverse and covers a broad and wide spectrum, rich in African themes.
Chike and the River (2011)
Chike and the River is a children’s tale, published in 2011. Eleven-year-old Chike longs to cross the Niger River to the city of Asaba, but he doesn’t have the sixpence he needs to pay for the ferry ride. With the help of his friend S.M.O.G., he embarks on a series of adventures to help him get there. Along the way, he is exposed to a range of new experiences that are both thrilling and terrifying, from eating his first skewer of suya under the shade of a mango tree, to visiting the village magician who promises to double the money in his pocket. Once he finally makes it across the river, Chike realizes that life on the other side is far different from his expectations, and he must find the courage within him to make it home.
The Trouble with Nigeria (2000)
In The Trouble with Nigeria, acclaimed author Chinua Achebe addresses his country’s problems, and the challenges that hold back Nigeria from moving forward. His arguments, however, are relevant not just for Nigeria but for many other countries.
There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra (2012)
Published by the Penguin Press, this long-awaited memoir revisits the Nigeria civil war, also known as the Biafran War, of 1967-1970. The conflict pitted the Nigerian federal government against the breakaway state of Biafra. A marriage of history and memoir, vivid firsthand observation and decades of further research and reflection, There Was a Country is a work whose wisdom and compassion remind us of Chinua Achebe’s place as one of the great literary and moral voices of our age.
― Quotes from There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra ―
“…Let me say that I do think decency and civilization would insist that the writer take sides with the powerless. Clearly, there’s no moral obligation to write in any particular way. But there is a moral obligation, I think, not to ally oneself with power against the powerless. I think an artist, in my definition of that word, would not be someone who takes sides with the emperor against his powerless subjects.”
“The triumph of the written word is often attained when the writer achieves union and trust with the reader, who then becomes ready to be drawn into unfamiliar territory, walking in borrowed literary shoes so to speak, toward a deeper understanding of self or society, or of foreign peoples, cultures, and situations.”
“People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience.”
“Some people flinch when you talk about art in the context of the needs of society thinking you are introducing something far too common for a discussion of art. Why should art have a purpose and a use? Art shouldn’t be concerned with purpose and reason and need, they say. These are improper. But from the very beginning, it seems to me, stories have indeed been meant to be enjoyed, to appeal to that part of us which enjoys good form and good shape and good sound.”