Renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe passed away last night in Boston, Mass. He was 82.
Achebe was the father of modern African literature, and a fearless critic of dictatorships in Nigeria and across Africa.
His last book, “There Was a Country” gives a moving personal account of the Biafra War. It is a great book (just read it a couple of weeks ago), and a fitting closing chapter to Achebe’s career (see Chimamanda Adichie’s review in the LRB here).
Achebe is most famous for the classic “Things Fall Apart.” The book has sold over 12 million copies and has been translated into more than 50 languages.
My favorite of his many books is “A Man of the People,” an astonishingly prescient critique of politics and governance in Nigeria (and by extension Africa) written in 1966. One of the characters, Chief Nanga, could have been a typical politician in many an African country today. The book ends with a coup, presaging the high levels of political instability that rocked much of Africa into the mid 1990s.
Chinua Achebe will forever be immortalized in the hearts of those of us who loved his work and admired his activism.
Together with those who wrote in the immediate post-independence era like Soyinka, Ngugi, Bitek, Tutuola, Okigbo, Ba, Armah, Liyong, and others, their works inspire and challenge us in equal measure; with reminders that there was a time in the giddy early sixties when things could have been different for Africa, that it wasn’t inevitable that things would fall apart.