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".

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor