'Father of African Literature' Tells of His Defining Experience

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THE BLAGGER'S GUIDE TO ... CHINUA ACHEBE All you need to know about the hottest literary topic of the week

More than 50 years after he first made his mark with the 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe's There Was a Country was published last week by Allen Lane (20). This long-awaited memoir of his experiences of the 1967-1970 Biafran war is his account of coming of age during one of the 20th century's greatest humanitarian disasters. Though Achebe is known as the "father of modern African literature", and made his name writing about the history of Nigeria, this is the first time that he has directly addressed in his writing the civil war which was the defining experience of his own life and his country's recent history.

Things Fall Apart (right) is set in the 1890s, as Christian missionaries begin their work in Nigeria. It is written in a new form of English which echoes with the rhythms and myths of Igbo. Wole Soyinka called it the "first novel in English which spoke from the interior of an African character rather than ... as the white man would see him". It has been translated into 50 languages and has sold more than 10 million copies around the world. The novel takes its title from WB Yeats's 1919 poem "The Second Coming": "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world "

Achebe had initially intended to write a longer novel, beginning with Things Fall Apart's main character, Okonkwo, and ending with his grandson many years later. He split the novel into three parts and published Things Fall Apart as the first in a trilogy. He eventually skipped the middle section, and in 1960 published the third "section" as No Longer at Ease, about Obi, a civil servant in Lagos. …