Chinua Achebe: Pure and Simple, an Oral Biography
Serafin, Anne, African Studies Review
Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru. Chinua Achebe: Pure and Simple, An Oral Biography. Ikeja, Nigeria: Malthouse Press Ltd., 2003. Distributed by African Books Collective, 27 Park End St. Oxford 0X1 1HU, UK. xi + 205 pp. Appendix. Index. $27.95. Paper.
Chinua Achebe: Pure and Simple approaches the famous writer-who has been dubbed "the father of African literature"-as a person rather than an icon. The author's stated goal is to reveal the person behind the writings. In contrast to most academic studies of a writer's work, this one, written by Phanuel Akubueze Egejuru, a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, is subtitled "an oral biography" and was compiled from "face to face interviews with Achebe himself, his blood relatives and other people who have intimate knowledge of him from infancy through adolescence to adulthood" (viii). To establish credibility, she assures readers that Achebe spoke to her about his life and his work and "said he wouldn't mind" (x) if she wrote his biography. In her excellent introduction, Egejuru explains her purposes and theoretical approach so clearly and enticingly that one wants to read on.
After years of research, Egejuru has written an "homage" (her word) to the man she has admired for nearly twenty years and whose character proved to be as admirable as she had expected. When she failed to come up with any negative judgments about her subject, she became concerned that nobody would believe her image of "a man who seemed programmed to be good" (xi). Gradually, she realized that, in the words of one of Achebe's friends, "there are no juicy tales to tell about him" (xi). She concludes that Achebe can remind us that there are people who "exemplify all that is good and virtuous in all of us human beings" (xi).
Egejuru's book succeeds in large measure; it is a personal, forthright, readable text, replete with details about Achebe's family, friendships, and work. She delineates the importance of family relationships, and she emphasizes the constancy of his many friendships. I found myself thinking of the book as "up-close and personal," and in fact it does include some items about the alleged rivalry between Wole Soyinka and Achebe; nevertheless, Egejuru discreetly avoids any intimate or embarrassing items and overall establishes the integrity, loyalty, and impressive moral fiber of the man. …