"There Was a Country" by Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Penguin Books, 2013. 

Achebe is a giant in African literature and his acclaim is well deserved. Until reading this book, however, I had only read his fiction. I picked this up because it was on the 'New' shelf at the library and because it was by Achebe. I was not disappointed. 

There was a Country is part biography, part event driven memoir, and part critique, all surrounding the Nigeria-Biafra war. The biography comes in Achebe describing his early life and personal involvement in events leading up said war. This section of book is more personal and, thus, more moving. The second half of the book is largely impersonal, focusing on the events of and after the war. Finally, as a conclusion, Achebe laments the current state of Nigeria and much that has happened since the war. 

On the one hand, I do not know enough of the history to judge this book as an account of events, or of Nigeria to judge it as an account of that country. Until reading this work I had never even heard of the Nigeria-Biafra war (or Biafra, for that matter) despite the fact that over 1 million people died in the conflict. I'm not sure if that speaks more to a deficit in my historical education, to the sad frequency of such conflicts in the 20th century, or to my ignorance of events outside of a very small sphere of interest. 

On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoyed this book as both a masterful piece of writing and a moving lament. Achebe is able to write in a very evocative way and one feels as if one knows him, impartially of course, after reading this book. I particularly enjoyed his reflections on writing and being a writer in politically and socially charged times. 

In the end, this was a very rewarding book to read. Though the position may be biased, I learned history of which I had been unaware. I was given insight into a man's heart for his country and what true lament can look like. It humbled me and made me want to pray. In some measure, by means that are hard to describe, it seemed to me that reading this book caused me to mature. 

The only part that saddened me was that the second half of this book, though still good, was far less so for want of the personal style that had been so evident in the first portion. 

Conclusion: Recommended. 4.5 Stars. It may be that there are problems with this book I am unaware of; bias or prejudice that should lower this rating. However, as a piece of writing it is excellent. 

No comments: