The Blagger's Guide to... Chinua Achebe

'Father of African literature' tells of his defining experience

More than 50 years after he first made his mark with the 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe's There Was a Country was published last week by Allen Lane (£20). This long-awaited memoir of his experiences of the 1967-1970 Biafran war is his account of coming of age during one of the 20th century's greatest humanitarian disasters. Though Achebe is known as the "father of modern African literature", and made his name writing about the history of Nigeria, this is the first time that he has directly addressed in his writing the civil war which was the defining experience of his own life and his country's recent history.

Things Fall Apart is set in the 1890s, as Christian missionaries begin their work in Nigeria. It is written in a new form of English which echoes with the rhythms and myths of Igbo. Wole Soyinka called it the "first novel in English which spoke from the interior of an African character rather than ... as the white man would see him". It has been translated into 50 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies around the world. The novel takes its title from WB Yeats's 1919 poem "The Second Coming": "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world …"

Achebe had initially intended to write a longer novel, beginning with Things Fall Apart's main character, Okonkwo, and ending with his grandson many years later. He split the novel into three parts and published Things Fall Apart as the first in a trilogy. He eventually skipped the middle section, and in 1960 published the third "section" as No Longer at Ease, about Obi, a civil servant in Lagos.

Achebe's other novels are: Arrow of God (1964); A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987). He has also published essays and criticism; four children's books (including Chike and the River and How the Leopard Got His Claws); short stories; and poetry in English and Igbo. His 1975 lecture An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' is still available in paperback from Penguin Classics. In it, he says that "Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist" and points out that there are only six words spoken by Africans in the whole of Heart of Darkness.

Chinua Achebe was born on 16 November 1930 in the Igbo town of Ogidi, in the south-east of Nigeria. His Christian parents named him Albert Chinualumogu Achebe – he dropped the Albert when he went to college, because "names are important". He read English, history and theology at the University of Ibadan, going on to work at the Nigeria Broadcasting Service as a scriptwriter, and then on to a BBC training course. His first passport described him as a "British Protected Person".

In 2007, Achebe was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for his "continued creativity, development and overall contribution to fiction on the world stage". Judges Elaine Showalter and Nadine Gordimer said respectively that he "illuminated the path for writers around the world seeking new words and forms for new realities and societies", and has achieved "a new-found utterance for the capture of life's complexity".

Nelson Mandela called Achebe "the writer in whose company the prison walls came down", and credited him as the author who "brought Africa to the rest of the world".

News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate