Reviews of Achebe’s There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra

By | October 6, 2012

First the conclusion of this ‘review’ (really, it is a summary of what the ‘reviewer’ likes in the book; and such a word as review should ideally not be used for it. If, however, we choose to call it a review, we should add that it is at best anodyne) by Noo Saro-Wiwa:

The final chapter is an exhortation to better governance, in which he examines corruption, ethnic bigotry, state failure and the steps Nigeria must take to rehabilitate itself. This prescriptive wish list reminds us of the gap between theory and practice in Nigerian politics; it makes you pine for the likes of Achebe to govern. But sadly, he’s not writing a manifesto; instead, we have in There Was A Country an elegy from a master storyteller who has witnessed the undulating fortunes of a nation, which – unlike young “Dictionary” – has yet to fulfil its potential.

The real review, by Chimamanda Adichie, a self-confessed admirer of Chinua Achebe (read the review to see the different reasons she admires him) and the writer of an award winning novel with the Biafran War as its central theme:

This is a book for Achebe’s admirers, or for those not unfamiliar with his work. Parts are similar to passages from previous essays, and interspersed in the narrative are poems which, even if tweaked here, have been published before. Keen followers of Achebe will be interested in some of the new material about his life in the first section of the book. But the second section, about the war itself, mostly forgoes personal memory. In writing about the major events, Achebe often recounts what he was told rather than what he felt and the reader is left with a nagging dissatisfaction, as though things are being left unsaid. There are a few glimpses. On a visit to Canada as a Biafran ambassador, one of his hosts at the Canadian Council of Churches made a joke, and in the middle of the loud laughter that followed, it occurred to Achebe that Biafra had become different from other places, where laughter was still available. And, later, hearing a plane take off from Heathrow, he instinctively wanted to dive for cover. There are other small details, but all tantalisingly brief, sometimes oblique. I longed to hear more of what he had felt during those months of war – in other words, I longed for a more novelistic approach.

Don’t stop with that as it is one of the more critical paragraphs in the review.

Although these reviews don’t really make me feel that I will learn anything new from the book, and even though I will find this disappointing because the Writer ‘was there’ and so could write more about Nigeria at inception – being part of the early elite and all that – and his experience of the Biafran War, I will buy and read the book anyway.

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  • Ifeoma

    Pathetic. Loomnie is desperately trying to pretend that he is balanced. You HAVE NEVER BEEN BALANCED on issues that involve non-Yorubas. Achebe’s new wook is causing waves around the world, and trust me, will sell millions.  WORLDWIDE. Nigerians are so self -centered. Who cares what you think. I can assure you that Prof doesn’t.  Loomnie myfriend, keep trying to pretend to everyone that Achebe’s criticism of Awolowo does not jaundice your agenda. Really pathetic
    Ngozi