THERE WAS A COUNTRY (Chinua Achebe’s memoir of the Biafran conflict)


One of my favorite books as a boy was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Not only did my English teacher make quite a number of references to the book, he used it as a platform to talk about the Igbo culture and the Biafran war in particular (of course I was born after the war). Back then, I was so curious to know what happened to my forefathers and how they managed to co-exist with Nigeria after all the bloodshed and destruction. Lucky me, I had my grandparents (God bless their souls) to tell the story. To add, Papa (my father) was a key military officer for the fallen republic. You may argue that whatever they told me was one-sided, biased to some point. Well, I didn’t stop at what they told me, though I must say that their account virtually was the same. As the years passed, I made friends with men and women from other tribes (Hausa and Yoruba in particular). I asked and they told me their side of the story—the war none of us, admittedly, will like to go through again.

Late weekend, over a couple of drinks with some old friends, we talked and talked—from the barbaric (killing of four undergraduates in Aluu) to the happy one (politics in Ondo state). Femi, my very outspoken, no-nonsense padi (pal) delved into the issue of corruption and the condition of the Nigerian state. Then he asked me with unblinking eyes, “Uzo, have you finally acquired a copy of  There Was a Country?” Absolutely not.

That didn’t stop us from hitting the discussion switch once again. Before I leave you with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s wonderful review of the book, I want to share with you a little more about how our conversation panned out. It resulted in a heated debate with two of my Yoruba friends being critical of Achebe’s position on the war. I admit that Femi pointed out something so true, something some of us (Igbos) are ashamed to admit. And that’s the lack of unity and brotherhood amongst us. Yes, we are often regarded as a cunning tribe; men and women who will hardly miss the chance to betray their own for selfish purposes. After the death of Dim Odimegu Ojukwu, men who are no different from clowns are clamoring to fill his shoes. These are big shots and governors (both current and ex) who, if you ask me, are unashamed of the level of decadence and hopelessness in their states. What a pity! Our late brother and charismatic leader, Ojukwu, fought for the Igbos! Are we talking about the way the country has fared up to now? Well, with the current situation of our dear nation, one can only pray that the efforts of our heroes past  shall never be in vain. It’s such a time like this that one has to rethink, perhaps be inclined to read Chinua Achebe’s latest book. This rather sad history and more he brings to light as he tries to point a way forward if we all still believe in one Nigeria.

When the falcon can longer hear the voice of the falconer, things fall apart.

—Chinua Achebe


7 thoughts on “THERE WAS A COUNTRY (Chinua Achebe’s memoir of the Biafran conflict)

  1. Things Fall Apart is also one of my absolute top 3 favorite books. I’ve read it 3 times and continue to want to reread it every two to three years. (Interestingly enough, another of my top 3 is also by a Nigerian author, Helon Habila’s ‘Waiting for an Angel’). But I digress, I’m eager to read Achebe’s take on the war except I worry about its timely release, what with Adichie’s movie version of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ coming soon and the fact that she reviewed Achebe’s new book… it’s all too perfectly orchestrated from a marketing point of view.

    Uzoma, I was wondering, do you know of any good books on Nigeria regarding contemporary history or politics etc? I’m doing research for a novel I’d like to write set in modern day NIgeria, but finding material to research is difficult. I’ve read Fyola’s ‘History of Nigeria’ but it’s very stiff and not as informative as I’d like it to be (especially regarding the contemporary aspect). Cheers.

    1. Ah! That’s amazing! I still have the book (Things Fall Apart) and have lost count of the number times I read it. Helon is another great writer and his story still plays in my head.

      Samir, I agree with you that much of Nigeria’s history has not been documented. I also face the same difficulty and sometimes have to rely on others for info. But I’ll be willing to provide you with what you seek if these books (below) don’t meet your expectation.

      Bitter-Sweet: My Life With Obasanjo by Oluremi Obasanjo (this is a book written by one of Olusegun Obasanjo’s wives and it touches the past and present)

      This Animal Called Man by Olusegun Obasanjo (this is the man himself writing. In the book he talks about his past as one of Nigeria’s Military Head of State and his divine rescue from death. Remember, he spent time in jail before becoming Nigeria’s first president in our nascent democracy)

      Blackbird by Jude Dibia (I love this book! I love Dibia’s style of writing! Blackbird is one of the contemporary books after military rule in Nigeria. For me, it’s above an average rating and I think you won’t regret reading it).

      Thanks for coming around. I wish you the best as I also look forward to the movie version of Half of a Yellow sun.

      1. Man, Uzoma, thank so much! As I no longer have ties with Nigeria other than an uncle who still lives there, it’s difficult to get such info (especially since that uncle is not literary in any way). I’m very grateful for the recommendation and will certainly hunt down those titles. Maybe that uncle can at least get me those books and bring them on his next visit 😉

    1. Haha, you can say that again, my friend. It’s a joy to read. A book to be cherished for a very long time to come.

      Thanks for commenting 😉

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