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Chinua Achebe Dead at 82

25 Mar
Chinua Achebe Dead at 82

I had a long period from the mid-80s to the early naughts where I stopped paying much attention to the libertarian movement, and I mainly ran around with a group of DC liberals and neoconservatives and then later with a group of gay Democrats.

The first group were mainly college and graduate students or people recently graduated, and among them was at least one really close friend with whom I had a two person book club.  We read a lot of modern fiction together, Michael Chabon, Armistead Maupin, Fay Weldon, Martin Amis.  Lots of gay fiction.  I also read lots of essentially “Russian novels,” huge panoramic novels that create whole worlds and often have an underlying philosophy, and often written by Russian or Russian Jewish émigrés.  It’s always remarkable to me that the insectoid critics of Ayn Rand don’t see any literary similarities between Rand, Tolstoy and Saul Bellow.  The drive to create a whole world in a giant novel isn’t specifically Russian, since John Steinbeck and George Elliot among others also produced my beloved giant novels.

So it was sad, amusing, and not unexpected to see the truly pathetic commentary on Chinua Achebe in mediocre appreciations like that in the Washington Post where halfwits look at Achebe, see a black face, and say he wrote about colonialism and opposed “the West.”  I devoured Achebe back in the decades where I chain smoked novels, and he seems to me to be another Saul Bellow (almost a Larry David), even with a touch of Christopher Buckley (and Ayn Rand), who writes about Lagos instead of Chicago, Washington, or New York.  His work is universal and transcendent, and funny.  Only a diminished person would read it and think it is only about Nigeria or Africa. He satirizes bureaucracy and statism (which may have been brought to his home by colonialism) that exist in the post-colonial period.  All libertarians should read him and libertarian humanities academics should be writing about him.

His first book, Things Fall Apart, besides the Atlas Shruggy title, is an attack on centralization, central planning, imperial capital cities, and bureaucracy, and that continues through his later work.  One Wiki synopsis:

A Man of the People

A Man of the People was published in 1966. A bleak satire set in an unnamed African state which has just attained independence, the novel follows a teacher named Odili Samalu from the village of Anata who opposes a corrupt Minister of Culture named Nanga for his Parliament seat. Upon reading an advance copy of the novel, Achebe’s friend John Pepper Clark declared: “Chinua, I know you are a prophet. Everything in this book has happened except a military coup!”[87]
Soon afterward, Nigerian Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu seized control of the northern region of the country as part of a larger coup attempt. Commanders in other areas failed, and the plot was answered by a military crackdown. A massacre of three thousand people from the eastern region living in the north occurred soon afterwards, and stories of other attacks on Igbo Nigerians began to filter into Lagos.[88]
The ending of his novel had brought Achebe to the attention of military personnel, who suspected him of having foreknowledge of the coup. When he received word of the pursuit, he sent his wife (who was pregnant) and children on a squalid boat through a series of unseen creeks to the Igbo stronghold of Port Harcourt. They arrived safely, but Christie suffered a miscarriage at the journey’s end. Chinua rejoined them soon afterwards in Ogidi. These cities were safe from military incursion because they were in the southeast, part of the region which would later secede.[89]
“>Once the family had resettled in Enugu, Achebe and his friend Christopher Okigbo started a publishing house called Citadel Press, to improve the quality and increase the quantity of literature available to younger readers. One of its first submissions was a story calledHow the Dog was Domesticated, which Achebe revised and rewrote, turning it into a complex allegory for the country’s political tumult. Its final title was How the Leopard Got His Claws.[90] Years later a Nigerian intelligence officer told Achebe, “of all the things that came out of Biafra, that book was the most important.”[91]