There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra
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From the legendary author of Things Fall Apart comes a longawaited memoir about coming of age with a fragile new nation, then watching it torn asunder in a tragic civil war
The defining experience of Chinua Achebe’s life was the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War, of 1967–1970. The conflict was infamous for its savage impact on the Biafran people, Chinua Achebe’s people, many of whom were starved to death after the Nigerian government blockaded their borders. By then, Chinua Achebe was already a world-renowned novelist, with a young family to protect. He took the Biafran side in the conflict and served his government as a roving cultural ambassador, from which vantage he absorbed the war’s full horror. Immediately after, Achebe took refuge in an academic post in the United States, and for more than forty years he has maintained a considered silence on the events of those terrible years, addressing them only obliquely through his poetry. Now, decades in the making, comes a towering reckoning with one of modern Africa’s most fateful events, from a writer whose words and courage have left an enduring stamp on world literature.
Achebe masterfully relates his experience, bothas he lived it and how he has come to understand it. He begins his story with Nigeria’s birth pangs and the story of his own upbringing as a man and as a writer so that we might come to understand the country’s promise, which turned to horror when the hot winds of hatred began to stir. To read There Was a Country is to be powerfully reminded that artists have a particular obligation, especially during a time of war. All writers, Achebe argues, should be committed writers—they should speak for their history, their beliefs, and their people.
Marrying history and memoir, poetry and prose, There Was a Country is a distillation of vivid firsthand observation and forty years of research and reflection. Wise, humane, and authoritative, it will stand as definitive and reinforce Achebe’s place as one of the most vital literary and moral voices of our age.
was a very important person in the British educational system, who thought that my work deserved encouragement, recognition, and a visit from him. So clearly I had a good beginning. As a young man, surrounded by all this excitement, it seemed as if the British were planning surprises for me at every turn, including the construction of a new university! It is, of course, only a joke, but I am sure many of my colleagues shared similar feelings. Here we were, a whole generation of students who
that we tried not to allow the situation to get to the stage whereby it resulted in civil war. Source: Achebe Foundation interviews. Number 15, part 2: General Gowon in conversation with Pini Jason, October 31, 2005. Ojukwu’s own take on the calamity that befell our nation is also salient: Events of the time made war possible . . . not me. My good friend, Jack; he was thirty-three then, and so was I. That, in addition, made war almost inevitable. My good friend, Jack, had a
London, and I was communicating with my publisher, Heinemann. I knew that the book was going to be problematic for me because of its criticism of Nigerian politics—very severe criticism. The novel, after all, climaxes in a military coup. I had sent one copy of the novel to J. P. Clark on a Wednesday, two days earlier. When J.P. arrived at the meeting his voice rang out from several hundred feet away. “Chinua, you know, you are a prophet. Everything in this book has happened except a
the building of schools, churches, markets, post offices, pipe-borne water projects, roads, etc. They did not concern themselves with pan-Igbo unity nor were they geared to securing an advantage over non-Igbo Nigerians. The Igbo have no compelling traditional loyalty beyond town or village.3 There were a number of other factors that spurred the Igbos to educational, economic, and political success. The population density in Igbo land created a “land hunger”—a pressure on their
inspiration from traditional African values and philosophy. He was admired by all of us not just because of his reputation as an incorruptible visionary leader endowed with admirable ideological positions, but also because he had shown great solidarity for our cause. He was, after all, the first African head of state to recognize Biafra. Though we shared an admiration for President Nyerere and the Arusha Declaration, members of the National Guidance Committee came to work with diverse