Friday, March 22, 2013

Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe

(Photo credit: Craig Ruttle/AP via Guardian)

Listening to the drone of news this morning, regurgitating  some highlights and lowlights of our Federal budget, the only real story that made my ears perk was the announcement that Chinua Achebe had died at the age of 82.

What does the death of an octogenarian Nigerian author mean to me?  Well, I’ve indirectly been influenced by Achebe for years.

Achebe is best known for his book, Things Fall Apart, and while for years I’ve meant to pick it up, I never actually got around to reading it.

The first time this sentence entered my realm of consciousness I was a 17 year old buying her first hip hop CD.  The Roots Things Fall Apart.  (ok that's not true.  I had actually bought the Ma$e CD in the 8th grade...)

And with that began my forever love of The Roots...

The next time I heard of Achebe was nearly 6 years later.  Even throughout the completion of my Bachelor's degree in International Relations, I still never picked up Achebe's novel.  
But then someone introduced my to the writings of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and I became a superfan.  There are some writers that you read once, and you know you'll read everything they ever publish for the rest of your life, or theirs, whichever lasts longer.  My list isn't long, but includes Margaret Atwood, Bill Bryson (weird I know), Zadie Smith, Joseph Boyden and Chimamanda Ngoza Adichi.  

I quickly read everything by Adichi that I could get my hands on, and Half of a Yellow Sun remains one of my favourite books ever (for-ever, ever?).

(photo credit: Amazon)

Adichi references Achebe throughout that book, and I've read articles where she has discussed the influence that Achebe has had not just on Nigerian writing, but on African writing on the whole.  

Now, Adichi's writing about Nigeria opened my eyes to the Biafran Nation, something I knew nothing about.  In fact, I had only heard the word Biafra once before, as the last name of Jello Biafra, the lead singer of the 80's punk band the Dead Kennedy's.  All of a sudden this entire new nation unfolded before my eyes, page by page.  And the it collapsed.  And while at a nation-state level it was likely inevitable, reading about it for the first time through the humanistic writing of Adichi made me so sad for it, so sad for the Biafran's, and for everyone starved, killed and injured in that pursuit.

Since then, I've kept Nigeria in my heart and in my mind.  I love to listen to both Fela and Femi Kuti, and was lucky enough to catch Femi Kuti in concert in Vancouver in 2007.  I follow Nigerian current events on international news, and I hope to visit the country one day.  

And I think that if it weren't for Achebe, I and a million non-Nigerians the world over who have become transfixed with the country, and who maybe even feel invested in it, even in some.tiny.way would be left perhaps never having been introduced to this country.  I think this a very big public service that Achebe provided for his nation.  

So, here's to you Chinua Achebe.  Thank you for opening up the world to me and to millions of others.   

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