|Albert Chínụ̀álụmọ̀gụ̀ Àchèbé|
|A Young Achebe in 1972|
Remarkably, "Things Fall Apart" was the first African novel that I ever read. My elder sister who was a teacher at Bannerman Commercial in those days had a copy that was always lying on her desk. My primary school literature books were Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations, all works of Charles Dickens, a legacy of British Colonial Influence. These were the books that were used in Samaria Primary when Sierra Leone was a colony, and upon the attainment of Independence, nobody ever attempted to change the school's literature curriculum, so we grew up reading the literature of Charles Dickens, which was not really bad, as his characters and description of poverty was particularly true to the African situation.
One particular day after school, it must have been in class six or seven, I picked up my sister's copy of "Things Fall Apart," looking for something to read and embarked on the greatest literary journey of a lifetime, an experience I will never forget. Reading that novel for the first time was the most significant literary experience of my life. I never studied "Things Fall Apart" in school, but I must have read that book from the first page to the last page over 100 times, and that is no exaggeration.
We grew up admiring, loathing and feeling sorry for the book's the Main character, Okonkwo, a man so full of pride and the fear of weakness and failure, that the fear of appearing weak ultimately led to his downfall. I never studied literature beyond form three, so I am no literary expert nor do I pretend to be. All I can say is that for somebody who was born in rural Sierra Leone, Chinua Achebe made me understand the politics of village life and made me appreciate the significance of West African traditions. His parables and proverbs are just out of this world.
Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" was a true labor of love. There is no character in the book that you cannot relate to. From Okonkwo's lazy father Unoka to the boy Ikemefuna who was exchanged for a grievous crime, Achebe took great care to develop and portray all the characters in the book is such detail that you grow up feeling as if you knew them in real life and that was the true power he had. There are so many African proverbs in "Things Fall Apart" that we grew up quoting him in school, to show how educated we were among our fellow students.
The only book by Chinua Achebe that I studied in school was the children's book "Chike and the River" which I read in form 1 in Bo School. "Chike and the River" is a powerful story of the mishaps and adventures of a small village boy sent to live in the city. It always made me remember my own experience of being uprooted from my Methodist Primary School in Segbwema to Samaria Primary School in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
"Things Fall Apart" (1958), was Achebes's seminal work. It later led to such literary works like "No Longer at Ease" (1960), "Arrow of God", (1964) "A Man of the People" (1966) and "Anthills of the Savannah" (1987)
Albert Chínụ̀álụmọ̀gụ̀ Àchèbé, who was born on November 16, 1930 and died today March 22, 2013 also wrote many short stories, essays and political commentary and was an ardent critic of successive Nigerian governments. There are many people who believe that it was a real shame for Achebe to be passed over for the Nobel Prize in Literature in favor of less influential African writers.
During the Nigerian Civil war Mr. Achebe joined the Biafran government as an Ambassador and has twice turned down offers by the Nigerian government to grant him national honors. Mr. Achebe who has been residing and teaching America for a long time after a serious accident died last night in Boston, Massachusetts. I will ask a Nigerian friend Dr. Theophilus Ejorh, another contemporary Nigerian writer to write a tribute for publication in the Segbwema Blog.
I learnt of Chinua's death today from a Facebook post of my college mate John Moses Kamara