“We shall all live. We pray for life, children, a good harvest and happiness. You will have what is good for you and I will have what is good for me. Let the kite perch and let the egret perch too. If one says no to the other, let his wing break.”-Chinua Achebe
On March 21, the intellectual world lost one of its most distinguished members when Chinua Achebe died after a brief illness in his eighty-second year.
Since the news of his departure invaded the airwaves, the world has been struggling to keep up with the volume of tribute that streams in daily.
Achebe needs no introduction to the general reader. His pen was active for more than over half a century. The sentence of his prose is like a polished gem.
In our generation, few writers have been celebrated as Chinua Achebe. In high school, Things Fall Apart was our treasured companion. We carried it wherever we went.
Achebe was the prime force behind African Writers Series (AWS). My literary world and others of my age was formed, nurtured, and shaped by the talented story tellers of AWS.
With six novels, eight short stories, six poetry, eight essays, and four children’s books, Achebe’s writings traveled a range of thought as wide as the scope of political, social, and economic issues that plague our nation.
Achebe’s position on those great varieties of problems he wrote about was far reaching and breathe taking. Few modern writers dared as candid in the expression of unwelcome thoughts as Achebe.
Is there any difficulty for the reader to fully comprehend sociological and anthropological settings of some of Achebe’s work?
Is there any confusion for the reader to intimately grasp the social philosophy behind Achebe’s writings?
The lucidity, style, and content, of books, articles, and essays authored by Achebe amply testify to the simplicity and readability of his materials.
What makes Achebe’s writing unique is the incisive wit that permeates his works. With stylistic effortless ease, he’s been able to simultaneously combine intellectual brilliance and humor. Things Fall Apart, his literary master piece successfully portrays this quality.
One theme that runs throughout his works and indeed in Achebe’s life is the conviction that what the world needed was the old fashion attitude of love and compassion for humanity.
“Every generation must recognize and embrace the task it is peculiarly designed by history and by providence to perform.”
Achebe’s writings are funny, but the message beneath the humor is deadly serious. He’s the most translated writer of his time. Achebe’s best – Things Fall Apart – was translated into 50 languages, sold over 10 million copies.
If the reader is careless and superficial to the extent he cannot find nothing more than the surface fun, it means he’s neglecting the more important relations and perspectives embedded in Achebe’s writings.
The strings of Achebe’s thoughts are delicately woven in triumphant chord of satire of protests against stupidity and sterility.
Achebe used a swift and sharp wit to express and expose the evil passions in human minds – suspicion, fear, lust for power, hatred, and intolerance – which stand in the way of a more benevolent Nigeria.
He was an inspired writer who had just the right measure of wit to spice his wisdom. His criticism was always constructive.
Achebe would not criticize a person, or group of persons, or an institution without suggesting how to make things better.
In my mind, Achebe is one of the rare literary giants who combine common sense and uncommon sense to confront the excesses and other societal evils associated with a world devoid of benevolence.
“We must hear all the stories… And by hearing all the stories, we will find points of contact and communication, and the world story, the Great Story, will have a chance to develop.”
He never flinched from any issue that was unpopular. The Anthills of Savannah, The Trouble With Nigeria, and lately There Was A Country sparked firestorms of controversy and conversation.
Achebe was a multi-gifted mind, a man gifted with the ability to make people laugh – at themselves.
His legacy was not in literature alone. Perhaps his greatest gift to mankind was his unfaltering courage and fearless stand he took in his campaign to preserve humanity.
All that Achebe struggled for and for which he sacrificed so much is beautifully summed up by Horace Mann: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”