There are some figures that transcend nations and even continents: writer Chinua Achebe who died last Thursday at the age of 82 in Boston USA was one such figure. Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian by birth but he belonged to Africa and went on to stride the world as a literary giant, making a lasting impact on the development of literature in Africa and pioneering contribution to Africa’s literary growth through his early novels, Things Fall Apart (1958), No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964) and A Man of the People (1966).
‘THINGS FALL APART’
Things Fall Apart, Achebe’s first novel, is an acclaimed classic. It tells the tragic story of Okonkwo, an important man in the Ibo tribe in the days when white men were first appearing in Nigeria, and of the series of events by which through his pride and fears Okonkwo becomes exiled from his tribe and returns only to be humiliated in a bid to escape the result of his rash courage against the white man. The success of Things Fall Apart was phenomenal. It was translated into 50 languages and has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. Achebe went on to win the Man Booker International Prize for his contribution to fiction but surprisingly to many he was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
His impact on the perception of African literature was immense and gained him the respect of millions, including Nelson Mandela who once said: “There was a writer named Chinua Achebe in whose company the prison walls fell”. The tributes to Chinua Achebe have been pouring in since news of death. Prof. Chris Lukirito Wanjala, Professor of Comparative Literature called him the ‘father of African letters’ who although he is dead “we know his name will go marching on because of his books”. Former President Moi recalled: “When I met Achebe 25 years ago I found him humble and self-effacing in spite of his immense fame worldwide”.
LET US CELEBRATE
An editorial in The Sunday Nation declared: ‘He was also a wonderful entertainer. His simple, direct style reminded people of the days when stories were told by the fireside drawing from the deep well of older people’s wisdom and life experiences’. In an opposite-editorial comment article also in the Sunday Nation, Murithi Mutiga struck the right note. ‘We should celebrate, not mourn, Achebe’, he wrote, ‘He achieved a feat only a few dozen people ever will. His work belongs in the category of “permanent literature”. It will be read for as long as man lives’.
Related articles: ‘It is the end of an era as the father of African literature calls it a day at 82’, Saturday Nation ‘Farewell Achebe, the literary giant who wrote with a feathery touch’, Murithi Mutiga, Sunday Nation ‘Achebe taught Africa to regain belief in itself’, Mumia Osaaji, Standard on Sunday