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There Was A CountryA Personal History of Biafra

Chinua Achebe

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There Was A Country

By: Chinua Achebe

Narrarated by: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, is a writer whose moral courage and storytelling gifts have left an enduring stamp on world literature. There Was a Country is his long-awaited account of coming of age during the defining experience of his life: the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War of 1967-1970. It became infamous around the world for its impact on the Biafrans, who were starved to death by the Nigerian government in one of the twentieth century’s greatest humanitarian disasters.

Caught up in the atrocities were Chinua Achebe and his young family. Achebe, already a world-renowned novelist, served his Biafran homeland as a roving cultural ambassador, witnessing the war’s full horror first-hand. Immediately after the war, he took an academic post in the United States, and for over forty years he has maintained a considered silence on those terrible years, addressing them only obliquely through his poetry. Now, years in the making, comes his towering reckoning with one of modern Africa’s most fateful experiences, both as he lived it and he has now come to understand it.

Marrying history and memoir, with the author’s poetry woven throughout, There Was a Country is a distillation of vivid observation and considered research and reflection. It relates Nigeria’s birth pangs in the context of Achebe’s own development as a man and a writer, and examines the role of the artist in times of war.

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Total File Size: 256 MB (8 files) Total Length: 9 Hours, 20 Minutes

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Arianna Stern


Marries poetry and prose in a straightforward, in-depth personal history of the little-discussed Nigerian Civil War
2012 | Label: Penguin Audio

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.

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