Paperback review: There Was a Country, By Chinua Achebe


The country was the breakaway Republic of Biafra, which seceded from Nigeria in 1967, in response to the continuing persecution of the Igbo people.

For three years they fought to maintain independence, in a brutal war during which many civilians died of starvation, with no help from the West, and especially not from the then British prime minister, Harold Wilson. Chinua Achebe was in the thick of events and his book is a fine example of witness literature, combining personal reminiscence, history, and poetry. Achebe’s style is simple and direct, almost matter-of-fact at times, but it’s this very plainness which gives the book its moral force. Biafra was eventually re-absorbed into federal Nigeria, but, as Achebe made clear in this, his last book, the scars are a long time healing.