I read my first Chinua Achebe book in high school. The first thing I remember was the ritualistic practices, the brutal treatment of women in this village in Nigeria. But when I reread the classic as an adult, I understood the genius of Achebe, as I was brought face-to-face with an Africa I didn’t even know existed. What I discovered was that Achebe used his words to change a perspective and shed quite a different light on “the dark continent” written about by the likes of Phillis Wheatley. I gained an understanding and appreciation of Africa and its people—and understood the connection I had to it all.
Today, the world lost a champion in Achebe, born November 16, 1930. But through his works, his spirit lives on.
Achebe, a native Nigerian, was the child of a Protestant missionary and as a result learned English as a part of his early education. He excelled at school and he received a full scholarship to attended Ibadan University College, majoring in history and theology. It was in college that his passion for writing was sparked.
Achebe was born Albert Chinualmogu Achebe. However, he rejected his Christian name, feeling that it was important to embrace his culture as he developed an insatiable interest in the indigenous Nigerian cultures.
In the late 1950s, Achebe presented the world with his greatest work, Things Fall Apart, which was in response to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Conrad wrote about Africa as a primitive society without language or culture. Heart Of Darkness was filled with tales of whites training blacks to be the civilized. Achebe was tired of allowing whites to create false images of his people and he was also tired of being portrayed as the ungrateful, adopted, wild children of Europe in his own country.
What Achebe set out to do (and what he actually accomplished in Things Fall Apart), is paint a complete picture of a particular culture, giving voice to the horrors and exploitations of colonialism as it actually played out all over the world. Set in the 1890s, the book is about the conflict between the indigenous Igbo people and Nigeria’s white colonial government.
Achebe carefully and vividly portrays the advanced social structure and traditions that are already in place that the Europeans worked to eradicate without thought.
Achebe went on to write many controversial books, including No Longer At Ease, Anthills of the Savannah and Arrow of God. All of his works contributed to breaking down racist stereotypes and it has inspired a generation.