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This book is a collection of autobiographical essays by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, whose best known work is the novel Things Fall Apart, published in 1958. Topics covered include Nigerian, Biafran and Igbo history and culture, African literature and the legacy of colonialism in his country and the rest of Africa. Some of the essays are taken from guest lectures at universities around the world and conference papers, and others are written for this book, particularly many of the more personal pieces about Achebe’s family.
The title essay is about Achebe’s school and university education in Nigeria, which remained a British colony until independence in 1960. His first passport in 1957 defined him as a “British Protected Person”. He is scathing about the language of colonial rule:
“In my view, it is a gross crime for anyone to impose himself on another, to seize his land and his history, and then to compound this by making out that the victim is some kind of ward or minor requiring protection.”
At this point I did think of how the language of “protection” is still being used to justify British foreign policy abroad.
Achebe’s descriptions of his experiences of going to school, and of some of his more memorable teachers at both school and university, are fascinating.
Some of the other essays are about the history of Nigeria but often with a very personal flavour, for example, an essay about growing up with the legend of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Africa. There are some quite harsh words about European writers’ portrayal of Africa, and the creation of images of the continent used to justify colonialism, in books by John Buchan and Joseph Conrad. These are interspersed with more personal essays about being a Nigerian/African writer, and pieces about his family. I was particularly struck by My Daughters, in which he buys his child a book and then finds it to be very racist, so he turns to writing his own book for children (finding this to be more difficult than he imagined.
I thought this collection of essays by a great African writer might be quite challenging reading but something I could learn from, and other books I have read recently have made me want to learn more about Nigeria. I found the book very educational and informative, but at the same time, extremely accessible and easy to read.
I was lucky enough to get a review copy of this book, as it is still quite expensive to buy with a cover price in hardback of £20 - it is available from Amazon for £11. It is also available in audio format (on CD) at £10.49 at time of writing this review. You could try looking in your library, or suggesting your library orders a copy.
This review previously appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk