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Chinua Achebe
Ogidi 15 Nov. 1930 • Nigerian poet-novelist

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A graduate of University College at Ibadan (1953), Achebe, who writes in English, is one of Africa’s most acclaimed authors and considered by some to be the father of modern African literature. His early novels, including the groundbreaking Things Fall Apart (1958) –probably the most widely read book by a black African writer – and No Longer at Ease (1960), describe poignantly the effects of European colonialism on Igbo society, Nigeria, and newly independent African nations. He served as a diplomat (1966–68) for Biafra during the Nigerian civil war and later wrote two volumes of poetry, Beware, Soul Brother (1971) and Christmas in Biafra (1973), and one of literary essays, Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975), about the war. He taught at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1976-81), and was founding editor (1971) of the influential journal Okike. Achebe returned to the novel form with Anthills of the Savannah (1987). He has also written numerous short stories, children’s books, and a book of essays, Home and Exile (2000), reflecting on his and his nation’s coming of age. A paraplegic as a result of a 1990 automobile accident, Achebe has lived in the United States since, teaching at Bard College.


Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad, 1898
Seaman Marlowe journeys deep into the heart of colonial Africa, where he encounters Kurtz, an idealist crazed and depraved by his power over the natives. The meeting prompts Marlowe to reflect on the darkness at the heart of all men.

'The Second Coming'
William Butler Yeats, 1920
Yeats' renowned, apocalyptical poem was first printed in 'The Dial' (1920) and later published in the collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921).

Mister Johnson
Joyce Cary, 1939
Mister Johnson, an enthusiastic government clerk in Nigeria, assists District Officer Harry Rudbeck in financing a main trade route, which ultimately leads to despair for both men.

Christopher Okigbo, 1986P
Collected poems by Achebe's close friend Okigbo, who died in the Nigerian civil war, in 1967, at the age of 35.

A Passage to India
E.M. Forster, 1924
After a mysterious accident during their visit to the caves, Dr Assiz is accused of assaulting Adela Quested, a naive young Englishwoman. As he is brought to trial, the fragile structure of Anglo-Indian relations collapses and the racism inherent in colonialism is exposed in all its ugliness.

The Heart of the Matter
Graham Greene, 1998
Scobie, a police officer in a West African colony, is a good and honest man. But when he falls in love, he is forced into a betrayal of everything that he has ever believed in, and his struggle to maintain the happiness of two women destroys him.

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens, 1849-1850
Nigerian schoolchildren (Achebe, too, in his youth) are required to read a great deal of Western literature, including classics such as this one.

Igbo oral tradition
Chinua Achebe's style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory.


Things Fall Apart
Portrait of life in a Nigerian village before and after the coming of colonialism.

The Hidden Force
Louis Couperus, 1900
The decline and fall of the Dutchman Van Oudyck is caused by his inability to see further than his own Western rationalism: he is blind and deaf to the slumbering powers of the East Indian people and countryside.

Max Havelaar or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company
Multatuli, 1860
Sending shockwaves through the Dutch nation when it was published in 1860, this damning expose of the terrible conditions in the colonies led to welfare reforms in Java and continues to inspire the fairtrade movement today.

A Bend in the River
V.S. Naipaul, 1979
In an African country that has suffered revolution and civil war and that is headed by a man of almost insane energy and crudity, one restless, reflective, and isolated villager and his friends uneasily submit to the tide of events.

The Grass is Singing
Doris Lessing, 1950
Set in Rhodesia, this is the story of Dick, a failed white farmer and his wife, Mary, dependent and disappointed. Both are trapped by poverty, and in the heat of the brick and tin house, hemmed in by the bush, Mary finds herself seeking solace in the arms of the houseboy.

Maryse Condé, 1984-85
Set in an 18h-century African kingdom, Conde's novel examines the cultural transformations brought about by the rise of Islam and the slave trade.

Forever a Stranger and Other Stories
Hella S. Haasse, 1948
In this collection of stories, the Dutch writer Hella Haasse deals with themes of alienation and estrangement. Born in the Dutch East Indies, Haasse calls up the images, people, and memories of her childhood.

Fathers and Sons
Ivan Turgenev, 1862
Arkady Petrovitch returns from college under the spell of a young nihilist called Bazarov, a character who shocked Arkady's father and the Russian public of 1862 with his criticisms of the traditional values of Russian society. In Bazarov, Turgenev created the prototype 'angry young man'.

Of Illustrious Men
Jean Rouaud, 1993
Set in the same region as Fields of Glory, the novel is about the author's father, Joseph, a traveling salesman who died at forty-one and left a family in shock behind him.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Robert M. Pirsig, 1974
This narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son becomes a text which speaks directly to the confusions and agonies of existence, detailing a personal, philosophical odyssey.

The Radetzky March
Joseph Roth, 1932
The Radetzky March charts the history of the Trotta family through three generations spanning the rise and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Hermann Hesse, 1922
The spiritual awakening of a man living in India at the time of the Buddha.

Character: A Novel of Father and Son
F. Bordewijk, 1938
The story of a young man growing up in a Rotterdam slum, where his pluck and intelligence serve him well. Yet all his success comes from the desire to spite his violent, grasping, and ruthless father.

Season of Anomy
Wole Soyinka, 1973
This book is based on the writer's thoughts during his imprisonment and confronts the Orpheus and Euridice myth with the mythology of the Yoruba.

The Famished Road
Ben Okri, 1991
Set in the ghetto of an African city during British colonial rule, this rich, phantasmagorical novel follows Azaro, a 'spirit-child' who has reneged on a pact with the spirit world.

Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2006
Set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Amos Tutuola, 1954
Tutuola's second novel recounts the fate of mortals who stray into the world of ghosts, the heart of the tropical forest.

A Grain of Wheat
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, 1967
Five friends make different choices when the Mau Mau rebellion erupts in colonial Kenya.

Second Class Citizen
Buchi Emecheta, 1974
Adah's desire to write is pitted against the forces of an egotistical and unfeeling husband and a largely indifferent white society.

Flora Nwapa, 1966
Flora Nwapa's first novel plants her story firmly in the world of women, where Efuru, beautiful and respected, is loved and deserted by two ordinary, undistinguished husbands.

People of the City
Cyprian Ekwensi, 1966
A young crime reporter doubles as a dance bandleader in a large West African city.

No Longer at Ease
Obi returns to Lagos full of ideas and high principles after studying in Britain. However, he is forced to adjust his moral values and succumb to the pressures of a corrupt society.
Anthills of the Savannah
Portrait of a West African military coup leader, and his moral deterioration.

Arrow of God

A Man of the People

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