Chinua Achebe’s death at the age of 82 robs us of a great man but compels us to appreciate anew his stunning works of fiction, essays and memoir. Achebe spoke to Africans and non-Africans differently but urgently. For more than half a century he delivered revelatory insights about both the African condition and the human condition. In dying, he leaves a body of writing unmatched by any West African. While he never won the coveted Nobel Prize for literature, he received virtually every other literary acolade and won a place in the pantheon of the greatest 20th century writers. Achebe was beyond comparison but by anaology he was, in my view, what Orwell was for the British and what Camus was for the French. While his greatest works of fiction came in his youth, and while he lived for decades in a self-enforced excile in the United States, he was first and last a Nigerian, committed to the progress of his country. Even as he despaired of Africa’s problems, even as he wrote in sometimes contradictory ways about his education as a “British-protected child,” he took solace in his insistence that Africans would someday become the beacon of hope, intelligence and wisdom that he believed they were destined to become. At bottom, Achebe was a writer of conscience, of dignity, of purpose and seriousness. If Ngugi of Kenya bemoaned the colonization of the African’s mind by the colonial oppressor and neo-colonial experience, Achebe asked that we try our best to transcend the limitations of the past and to recognize that every tragedy contains within it a new dawn.
Mar 22 2013
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