The “father of modern African writing”, Chinua Achebe (born Albert Chínụálụmọ̀gụ̀ Àchèbé), best known to the world as the amazing writer of Things Fall Apart, passed away on Friday 22 March, 2013, after a brief illness, at the age of 82. He was born and raised in the Igbo town of Ogidi, Nigeria and began writing as a university student. Soon after graduation, he did a bit of teaching and then he worked for the National Broadcasting Corporation, a faction of the British Broadcasting Company and later helped create the Voice of Nigeria network.
Achebe was not just the writer of such amazing novels as No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), but also penned poetry, essays, short stories and even children’s books, all based in his native land, Nigeria. What I think most people first fell in love with in his writing was that he painted a real and beautiful picture of Nigeria and Africa, to a world that, up to that point, had been largely ignorant to the reality of what it was like to be African and in Africa.
Some of his stories were set in the Nigeria before independence from British colonial rule, and so they allowed a view into what it was like living in a time when Nigeria didn’t belong to the Nigerians. This included themes revolving around the conflict felt by Nigerians in a time of both traditional African culture and invasive Western values, the bloody civil wars that plagued Nigeria and the pain felt by the Ibo nation of South-Eastern Nigeria from the brutality of military dictators from other Nigerian ethnic groups.
Things Fall Apart was his first novel, published in 1958, and has since sold millions of copies and been translated into over 50 languages. It was the most widely read book in modern African literature, and like most of his subsequent works, this is set in the Ibo countryside and is most loved for its detailed descriptions of the Ibo life, culture and traditions. It went on to become a classic of world literature, something which was virtually unheard of in African literary circles.
In 1998, Nadine Gordimer hailed Achebe as “a novelist who makes you laugh and then catch your breath in horror – a writer who has no illusions but is not disillusioned. From his writing, Achebe became more than just a writer, but also a political activist. He was noted for aiming his criticisms, not only at British colonial rule, but also at African leadership and the citizens who tolerated their corruption and dictatorship.
He has spent most of his adult life living in exile in the United States of America, working as a University Professor, but came back to Nigeria briefly, to be involved in the politics of the independence and rejoining the of the region of Biafra from Nigeria. He soon became frustrated with the levels of corruption and decided to take himself out of the equation, then a car accident left him disabled, so he moved back to the US.
His most recent work was There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, which is a memoir of the new nation that was Biafra, told from Biafra’s cultural ambassador. It tells of the Nigerian civil war (The Biafran War) during which Achebe was a roving cultural ambassador able to observer the full horror. It was soon after this that he moved back to the US and has since maintained somewhat of a silence on the events of the war, aside from an interview with Transition magazine, only referring to it through his poetry.
He is most remembered for his unique style of writing, which showed his keen satire, his heavy reliance on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs and oratory.
The literary world has lost a great mind and an even better writer.
RIP Chinua Achebe.