When I first read Chinua Achebe at age 11 (Things Fall Apart), he was one of the few African writers I'd read growing up. As an African I often wondered why there weren't too many books about Africa written by Africans. Things are changing now but when I was growing up that wasn't the case.As such, Achebe holds a special place in my heart.
I was really excited to read this autobiography and I wasn't disappointed. In the first part, Achebe talked about his childhood, pre-Independence Nigeria, and the great educational institutions the British established that helped him to become a writer. Then he talked about the positive mood of the country after it had gained independence, which unfortunately wasn't to last long.
One of the most important parts of the book for me was the history of the Biafran War, the genocide that killed a large number of ethnic Igbos. I'm actually embarrassed to admit that I had never even heard of this war, despite its magnitude and how atrocious it was. I was surprised to read that many people outside Nigeria (including John Lennon, Kurt Vonnegut, and Charles De Gaulle) were very much involved in denouncing the atrocities.The descriptions of the war (some eye witness accounts) were so gruesome and shocking; I wonder why it's not talked about more.
Throughout the book, Achebe was very blunt about many things. He stated clearly that he was for a new seceded state of Biafra, he also stated how idiotic tribalism is (Nigeria has over 250 tribes). He even went on to talk about corruption in Nigeria and the African knack for choosing awful heads of states.You could feel the passion for his country, for his continent, for the arts etc.
This was an amazing read and one I will definitely be buying.
Disclaimer - reading this book will probably make you add more books to your to-read list (Garvey, Senghor, Nyerere and Aime Cesaire are just a few writers that were mentioned). I guess that's often the case in the autobiographies of writers!
March 22, 2013 - I'm extremely sad to hear of Achebe's death.He did so much for African literature and inspired so many young Africans to write, know their history and be proud of their culture. May his legacy live on.