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Book Review

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Chinua Achebe, There Was a Country

  • 2012
  • | Publisher: Penguin Audio

Marries poetry and prose in a straightforward, in-depth personal history of the little-discussed Nigerian Civil War

There Was a Country, Chinua Achebe’s firsthand account of the Nigerian civil war, which lasted for almost three years and claimed more than a million lives, marries poetry and prose to create a straightforward, in-depth history. No background knowledge of Nigeria is needed to understand the story – Achebe carefully explains every link in this complex chain of events.

In short, the Igbo ethnic group, of which Achebe is a member, emphasized education, which brought them prosperity and a pathway to assimilation under British colonial rule. Their successes made other Nigerians resent them, which culminated in widespread massacres that went overlooked by the Nigerian government. When the Igbo people pronounced Biafra, the eastern region of Nigeria, their own independent nation, it catalyzed a civil war and a series of scarring humanitarian tragedies.

Achebe’s passion is clear throughout the book, whether he’s discussing Nigeria’s potential for democratic rule or the artist’s role in contextualizing political conflict. At times, it can seem like Achebe is trying to cover too much ground. Still, his ambitious storytelling style makes sense in context: He’s a high-profile writer who’s been embraced by a Western media that isn’t exactly preoccupied with Nigerian politics. In a sense, his writing helps to fill a void. As Achebe puts it, “I worry when somebody from one particular tradition stands up and says, ‘The novel is dead. The story is dead.’ I find this to be unfair, to put it mildly. You told your own story, and now you’re announcing the novel is dead. Well, I haven’t told mine yet.” In There Was a Country, Achebe both tells his story and emphasizes the right of others to do the same.

Comments 1 Comment

  1. Avatar ImageEMUSIC-02C4E372on December 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm said:
    do u have the latest by Miych Albom? I dont even know about the one advertised, seems like I have to like what u may like. I have my own taste in music n books

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