Chinua Achebe: A Non-Romantic View, By Ibrahim Bello-Kano

Prof Ibrahim Bello-Kano

Indeed, we cannot help wondering if the recent insensate massacre of Chinua’s people in Kano, only a few days ago, hastened the fatal undermining of that resilient will that had sustained him so many years after his crippling accident.

—Wole Soyinka and J. P. Clark. “Chinua Achebe Death: We Have Lost a Brother”. The Guardian (UK), March 22, 2013.

There is no doubt that Chinua Achebe, who died last week in the United States after a long residence there probably because it was better for him to live there than in Nigeria, was, by many accounts, an outstanding writer. His first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), received wide critical acclaim soon after its publication, which came in the wake of the great wave of decolonization. A year before the publication of the novel, Ghana became the first independent African country, in 1957. Things Fall Apart  was published at a time when non-Western but Western educated intellectuals and cultural nationalists were looking around for indigenous cultural documents that could vindicate pre-colonial African cultures, in what the British-Indian writer, Salman Rushdie once called, in memorable phrase, “writing back to the Centre” (the West).

It was arguably in that context, the urgent need, by the African literati, to produce an African narrative that would vindicate indigenous African cultures which were heavily denigrated by centuries of Western writers, priests, and colonial administrators, rather than the novel’s intrinsic literary merits, that brought Things Fall Apart to prominence, at least within the post-nationalistic African intelligentsia. The same may be said of Achebe’s other novels: their timing, 1960-1966, was fortunate because there was, then, a large literate international English-speaking reading public eager to get access to the new African writing, not to speak of publishers such as Heinemann which were looking to cash in on it all. Again, it was in that context that Achebe’s works were appropriated for all kinds of culture wars, especially within the ranks of militant post-colonial intellectuals.

Achebe’s collection of essays on literature, cultural politics, and colonial history, from the early Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975) to the later Hopes and Impediments (1989) and Home and Exile (2000) sealed his reputation as an African or Black cultural critic, activist, and nationalist. His other novels, No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), Man of the People (1966), not to mention short stories and poems such as Girls at War and Other Stories (1972) and Beware, Soul Brother and Other Poems (1971) were widely admired by critics and literary historians for their “realistic” and, some would say, vivid, subtle, and complex portrait of the African, or, at least, “the Nigerian condition”, which, to this day, has persisted in more complicated forms.

Achebe was also the influential editor of the Heinemann African Writers Series, between 1962 and 1972. Under his direction, the series published some of the most canonical of African writers such as Alex La Guma, Taha Hussein, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Doris Lessing, Ayi Kwei Armah, Tayeb Salih, Bessie Head, Cheik Hamidou Kane, Okot p’Bitek, and nationalist intellectuals such as  Amilcar Cabral, Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda, Jomo Kenyatta, and Kwame Nkrumah.

Chiefly because of his first novel, and his pioneering role as the editor of the African Writers Series, many have considered Achebe as the “father of African fiction” (or the founding father, even the grandfather, of modern African literature), a dubious claim that Achebe himself could not accept, since, as he knew in his lifetime, there were many African writers of fiction and non-fiction that wrote compelling accounts of African cultural and social life well before he was born. Claims for Achebe as being the “father of African fiction or literature” are based on a partial and reductive view of Africa’s literary history, or a diminution of African writing to a minor position within the Western literary tradition.

Yet there had been indigenous African writing in native languages. Consider, for example, the case of the Basotho (Lesotho) writer and novelist, Thomas Mopoku Mafolo (1876-1948), the celebrated author of Chaka the Zulu (1912-15?), which many literary historians have called a masterpiece, an epic tragedy, and, in the words of a reviewer, “the earliest major contribution of black Africa to the corpus of modern world literature”. One could cite the example of the celebrated Yoruba writer, D. O. Fagunwa, author of Odo Ninu Igbo Irunmale (1936), or the works of the Arab writer, Naguib Mahfouz, and countless other writers who wrote in Hausa, Tamashek, Amharic, Wolof, and so on. Indeed, no one author or person could have begun what we call today “African writing”. The African literary tradition is far older, more enduring, and more complex than the alleged effort of a single author, however gifted. In any case, the idea of Achebe being the “father of African fiction” is not a scholarly argument but a romantic and naïve one because it ignores the major contributions of pre-colonial African authors and a huge corpus of African writing in Arabic, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.

But whatever the artistic merit of Achebe’s work, which is considerable to say the least, it is in his novel, Anthills of the Savannah (1988), that his literary-story-telling skills began a terminal decline. Indeed the novel marks a notable decline in his liberal vision and creative acumen. The novel is, by any standard, a trivial thriller and is uneven in linguistic and literary quality. Arguably, large parts of Anthills read like pulp fiction, or a crudely crafted political thriller. The storyline is fragmented; the attempt at covert plotting is unsuccessful; the narrative exposition is slow and cumbrous; the style of representation is too thin and shallow; the plot is threadbare and thin, perhaps even superficial in many instances. The dialogue is unconvincing, heavy, and tedious, and the characterization is one-dimensional. For example, neither Ikem, Beatrice, Abdul on the one hand nor Professor Okon, Sam, and Osodi on the other has any emotional and psychological depth. Indeed no character in that novel has convincing uniqueness of character, and none is admirably individuated. Moreover, the characterization and dialogue are stagey, as can be seen in the first person account of the First Witness, Christopher Oriko (Chapter 1) and the dialogue in the opening section of Chapter 2. Anthill is also marred by obliquities of narration and an undisciplined, un-integrated multiplicity of viewpoints: the novel’s attempt at an epic-scale representation of a dystopian land and its failure to offer an intensely imagined, superbly coordinated narrative irony are telling. Yet all this may be accounted for by the novel’s melodramatic structure and the poor quality of its speech representation.

Frankly, Anthills of the Savannah is a disappointing work; little wonder it failed to win the 1987 Booker McConnell Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award. For example, the novel combines melodrama with a political roman á clef, as can be seen in the closing section of the narrative, the journey on the “Great North Road” (Chapter 17). Indeed, this chapter presents a veiled dystopian narrativization of northern Nigeria, which is variously called “the scrub-land”, “the scorched landscape”, “another country”, “full of dusty fields [and] bottomed baobab tree[s] so strange in appearance”, etc. In this novel, the rainforest (“the rain country”) of the South is favourably contrasted with the “parkland of grass and stunted trees… of mud walls and reddish earth”, the North. One conclusion, which, of course, may be problematic from a strictly literary-critical perspective, is that unlike the Exceptional Southerners, the Northerners don’t know how to make the North “prosperous” (the roads are full of pot holes) so that all the talented, intelligent, hardworking, economically gifted, and industrially-savvy Southerners could migrate to the North (perhaps in the mode of mission civilatrice), which is, as of now, wallowing in economic and social desperation (see the opening pages of Chapter 17).

The novel has other defects as well: the author’s heavily moralized, didactic view of life repeatedly intrudes in the narrative, and, in particular, in the facile and tired representation of the Military Ruler, the Head of Sate. Ikem and Beatrice’s romanticism, their romantic view of social relations, is clearly the real author’s because the entire drift of the narrative is towards a heavily moralized view of life (Light versus Darkness; Enlightenment versus Ignorance; Diligence versus Parasitism).

Yet it is in Achebe’s essay, The Trouble with Nigeria (1983), that his romanticism comes full circle. In that book, Achebe argues that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership… the unwillingness and inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example” (p. 1). This postulation of Achebe’s ignores the deep structural constraints on human action and psychology. It is pre-critical to ignore the complex ways in which social structures mediate, modify, condition, and constrain human choices. Leadership works within institutional, historical, cultural, and economic contexts which place limits on what human agents can and cannot do. This notion of the structural determination of leadership means that a leader has inevitably to work within, and exist in, a system and a political logic whose proper system, laws, and operation his or her “leadership” cannot, by definition, dominate absolutely. The leader, despite his having a certain measure of freedom, has inevitably to be governed by the system within which he or she exists. And although men and women make their own history, they clearly do not make it as an act of will, or in their own freely-chosen circumstances, but under the structural constraints of the accumulated past and inherited traditions. This is what The Trouble with Nigeria has missed: Nigerian leaders cannot be the miraculous changed men or women of their country but the changed men and women of their country’s changed circumstances. This is the truth of the time-honoured liberal credo that the educator herself needs educating and that if leaders are educators, who will educate the educators?

From this perspective, Achebe’s conception of leadership may properly be called “voluntarism”, even a form of messianic thinking: on Achebe’s flawed logic, all a leader need do is become, by the force of sheer will power, a morally good person, who has only to lead by example rather than by veritable political principles. Achebe’s is another way of saying that Nigeria needs a strong leader, one who has miraculously escaped all the cultural and historical pressures of his community or country; in effect, a messiah. This dubiously Christian view of leadership is a convenient way of avoiding the complex problem of institutional, cultural, and historical constitution of subjectivity and moral choice in a multi-ethic, multi-religious country, one with a large, primordialist, backward-looking civil society. Indeed one reason for the failure of Achebe’s little book to capture the scholarly or popular imagination was its threadbare romanticism and an un-modern (a feudal and mystical) vision of political leadership.

Perhaps Achebe’s most disappointing book, or to phrase matters differently, his most inferior work, is There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra (2012). As a personal testament, the book vindicates the time-honored dictum that “the personal is political”. Perhaps we need not be critical of Achebe’s passionate defence of his ethnic group, or of the short-lived Biafra, and his role in it. Yet there is something distasteful about open myopia of blind ethnic solidarity or communal jingoism. What is striking about the book is its complete lack of a keen political insight, its petty romantic vision of Nigeria’s political history. For example, consider the book’s astonishing claims, namely that the Igbos wholly deserved their entrenched positions in the military, economic, and bureaucratic structures of pre-civil war Nigeria (“… the Igbos led the nation in virtually every sector— politics, education, commerce, and the arts”, pp. 66-67); that all non-Igbo Nigerians are united by their hatred for the Igbo ethnic group; and that British rule in Nigeria and elsewhere was not, as popularly assumed, an unmitigated disaster. According to Achebe in There was a Country, the British government ruled the Nigerian colony “with considerable care… and competently… British colonies were more or less expertly run” (p. 43). In the same book, however, Achebe accuses British colonial officials of rigging the election and the population census in favour of conservative elements such as Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto from the “Islamic territories” (p. 46; Achebe does not say that the Igbo were from the “Christian territories”), people who “had played no real part in the struggle for independence” (p. 52). In addition, for Achebe it was the behaviour of the British that sowed the seeds of Nigeria’s eventual descent into civil war. If indeed Achebe has this rosy view of colonial rule, then his entire corpus of anti-colonial polemic and cultural nationalism has been in vain, or, in a way, a hypocritical effort at self-publicity.

Worse, Achebe argues, in an astonishing moment of historical revisionism, that the originators of the very idea of one-Nigeria were “leaders and intellectuals from the Eastern Region” (p. 52). This may explain why he credits Nnamdi Azikiwe with the enviable position of being “father of African independence” (“There was no question at all about that”, (p. 41). In sum, then, there are many instances of sloppy argument and poor judgment in the book, as, for example, Achebe’s claim that Nigeria failed to develop because the Igbo, despite their “competitive individualism” and a unique “adventurous spirit”, were excluded from Nigerian economic, social, and political life. Examples of Achebe’s unsophisticated political perception of things are, first, his lack of political sensitivity concerning non-Igbo political leaders such as Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The first two are seen by Achebe as ruled by inordinate ambition (“resuscitated ethnic pride”) and conservative traditionalism respectively. The latter Achebe almost casts into the role of a lackey of the Western world, which, he claims, turned (“built up”) Balewa through flattery into a great statesman (p. 51).

It is thus fair to say that, in There was a Country at least, Achebe is an overwhelmingly “ethnic nationalist”, an “Igbo-phile” (or a philo-Igbonis, to coin a new term), and a Biafra apologist to boot. He is, in this book at least, a homo duplex, the Double Man, in effect, both Biafran and Nigerian; Igbophile and Nationalist; Anti-colonial Writer and a Post-colonial Apologist of Expert British Rule. This should explain why the book has a schizoid thematic orchestration and its claims pressed within a phlegmatic stylistic mode, which, again and again, has proved incapable of sustained irony. Surely, then, There was a Country is a patchwork of Achebe’s deep, even unconscious, prejudices. In one moment after another, the book fails to offer a finely integrated presentation of a realistic historical, geographical, economic, and culturally diverse, though troubled, country.

So while I pay tribute to this important novelist and essayist, I should remark, at the same time, that we should not, in our romantic rush to venerate our little (culture) heroes, forget earlier illustrious and master English-speaking storytellers such as Amos Tutuola (1920-1997) and Cyprian Odiatu Ekwensi (1921-2007). Their books, The Palm-Wine Drinkard and his Dead Palm-Wine Tapster in the Deads’ Town (written 1946 and published in 1952) and People of the City (1954), are two outstanding pieces of literature and narrative self-assertion that blazed the trail in modern, English-speaking African fiction writing. In the same manner, while we pay tribute to Achebe and his literary legacy, let us not also forget great post-colonial African storytellers such as Ayi Kwei Armah, Sambene Ousmane, Ngugi wa Thiog’o, and, not least, the incomparable Kenyan writer, Meja Mwangi, the author, in my opinion, of the finest African novel ever—Going Down River Road (1977).

As for Achebe, I say “goodbye”; for there was indeed a great novelist, but who, tragically, had to write the greatest anti-novel of his career—There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra.

Professor Ibrahim Bello-Kano  is of the Department of English and French, Bayero University, Kano



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  • Nnenna

    I totally agree that the book “There was a country was full of half truths and a poor attempt to rewrite history. It displayed a high level of tribalism.

  • Vince

    Prof. I must say shame on you. The same accusations you bring forward you are guilty of… 1) without questions it is evident that you are a muslim who does not like the Christians view of solving problems …(This dubiously Christian view of leadership is a convenient way of avoiding the complex problem of institutional, cultural, and historical constitution of subjectivity and moral choice in a multi-ethic, multi-religious country, one with a large, primordialist, backward-looking civil society.) this is why you keep mute and bokoharam is bombing your village. 2) your criticism is tilted towards acknowledging a northerner in writing but you forget that not your words rather their books will speak for them.

    Your analysis …”ndeed, this chapter presents a veiled dystopian narrativization of northern Nigeria, which is variously called “the scrub-land”… is true.

    Write a book- …that is better!.

  • 77Akemini

    If you cannot agree with someone’s story, write your own. Akpaku prof.

  • shammas

    not scared to take on anyone, that’s how i know you sir. i am sure Achebe himself would have been proud of that write-up, that’s what true academics relish; the prospect of a healthy, robust, and incisive debate or discussion about their different perceptions. Thanks a lot.

  • ogkuku2

    Oh pls! Keep ur views 2 ursef! Name one nationalist frm the north of same generation wt prof. Achebe who is nt a bigot?? Political parties were formed along ethnic lines. Prof. Achebe dropped ethnicity 2 work wt Mal. Aminu Kano.
    We always get things wrong ‘Charity begins at home’.if u cnt educate ur immediate circle of influence, it wud b hard 2 go beyond. Prof. Achebe dd all he can 2 re-educate ndi-igbo and Africans in general of the importance and efficacy of our culture.
    U cudnt stand Prof. Achebe in his life time wt yur criticisms, nw u hv wait till his death 2 criticize a lifeless body 2 gain score cheap points….

  • Iconium

    Achebe said and i quote ” If you do not like my story write your own” Tell your own story if there was truly a country?

  • Musa Abdullahi

    And they gather, quickly using the name Great Iroko, Father of Mordern Africa Literature to gain some cheap popularity.

    Shame on you Mallam Ibrahm Kano.

  • Well, Mr. Bello, people are paying tribute to Achebe because he just died. I am sure that those other writers you mentioned were also praised when they died. So, why should Achebe share his own time in the world stage with them? Is it not wicked of you to wish such for him?

    Howmany of those writers you mentioned wrote a book that was translated into over 50 languages?

    No one is saying Achebe is a God, like other humans he must have made some mistakes, just like a thorough research on some of those writers you mentioned will reveal they were not perfect either as well.

    So why dont you show yourself for the bigot that you are rather than hide under the cloak of scholarship.

  • Kai

    Dear Bello, The difference between you and Achebe is that “I’ve never heard of you!”
    Second, even in a world inhabited by one year-olds, a Hausa/Fulani,for generations to come, will do nothing worthy of global attention than spilling innocent blood….

    • Except perhaps being the richest black man of all time, and by dint of hardwork. You must have heard of on Dangote, a Hausa Fulani. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer the romantic view on Achebe and I have reservations about this write up. But you did not distinguish yourself too with your last comment.

      • T2ony

        In a country where very few people are extremely rich, something is absolutely wrong!

  • Uche

    I have never seen a biased critics as this. Why all this?

  • adlexy

    A great analysis, in my opinion

  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    Ibrahim Bello Kano is another local champion. They are perpetually in envy of global Igbo stars. Ibrahim cannot even unlace the sandals of Chinua Achebe. No one has ever heard of Ibrahim nor other obscure hausa authors he mentioned here.

  • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

    The top 100 books of all time

    Take a look at a list of the top 100 books of all time, nominated by writers from around the world, from Things Fall Apart to Mrs Dalloway, and from Pride and Prejudice to Don Quixote
    The 100 greatest non-fiction books

    Looking for great book recommendations? Our critics and experts pick the best books, and give the definitive subject lists

    Share 5945


    Email, Wednesday 8 May 2002 10.58 BST

    The greatest book of all time? … Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as drawn by Honoré Daumier, c.1855. Photograph: Francis G. Mayer/Corbis

    1984 by George Orwell, England, (1903-1950)

    A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, Norway (1828-1906)

    A Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)

    Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962)

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, United States, (1835-1910)

    The Aeneid by Virgil, Italy, (70-19 BC)

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

    Beloved by Toni Morrison, United States, (b. 1931)

    Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin, Germany, (1878-1957)

    Blindness by Jose Saramago, Portugal, (1922-2010)

    The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, Portugal, (1888-1935)

    The Book of Job, Israel. (600-400 BC)

    The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

    Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)

    Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, England, (1340-1400)

    The Castle by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

    Children of Gebelawi by Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt, (b. 1911)

    Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina, (1899-1986)

    Complete Poems by Giacomo Leopardi, Italy, (1798-1837)

    The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

    The Complete Tales by Edgar Allan Poe, United States, (1809-1849)

    Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo, Italy, (1861-1928)

    Crime and Punishment by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

    Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, Russia, (1809-1852)

    The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

    Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, Italy, (1313-1375)

    The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil, (1880-1967)

    Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun, China, (1881-1936)

    The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Italy, (1265-1321)

    Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain, (1547-1616)

    Essays by Michel de Montaigne, France, (1533-1592)

    Fairy Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark, (1805-1875)

    Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany, (1749-1832)

    Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais, France, (1495-1553)

    Gilgamesh Mesopotamia, (c 1800 BC)

    The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, England, (b.1919)

    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, England, (1812-1870)

    Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Ireland, (1667-1745)

    Gypsy Ballads by Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain, (1898-1936)

    Hamlet by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

    History by Elsa Morante, Italy, (1918-1985)

    Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Norway, (1859-1952)

    The Idiot by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

    The Iliad by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)

    Independent People by Halldor K Laxness, Iceland, (1902-1998)

    Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, United States, (1914-1994)

    Jacques the Fatalist and His Master by Denis Diderot, France, (1713-1784)

    Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, France, (1894-1961)

    King Lear by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

    Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, United States, (1819-1892)

    The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, Ireland, (1713-1768)

    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Russia/United States, (1899-1977)

    Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)

    Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880)

    The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955)

    Mahabharata, India, (c 500 BC)

    The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil, Austria, (1880-1942)

    The Mathnawi by Jalal ad-din Rumi, Afghanistan, (1207-1273)

    Medea by Euripides, Greece, (c 480-406 BC)

    Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar, France, (1903-1987)

    Metamorphoses by Ovid, Italy, (c 43 BC)

    Middlemarch by George Eliot, England, (1819-1880)

    Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, India/Britain, (b. 1947)

    Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, United States, (1819-1891)

    Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)

    Njaals Saga, Iceland, (c 1300)

    Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, England,(1857-1924)

    The Odyssey by Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC)

    Oedipus the King Sophocles, Greece, (496-406 BC)

    Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac, France, (1799-1850)

    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, United States, (1899-1961)

    One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia, (b. 1928)

    The Orchard by Sheikh Musharrif ud-din Sadi, Iran, (c 1200-1292)

    Othello by William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616)

    Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo Juan Rulfo, Mexico, (1918-1986)

    Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, Sweden, (1907-2002)

    Poems by Paul Celan, Romania/France, (1920-1970)

    The Possessed by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881)

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, England, (1775-1817)

    The Ramayana by Valmiki, India, (c 300 BC)

    The Recognition of Sakuntala by Kalidasa, India, (c. 400)

    The Red and the Black by Stendhal, France, (1783-1842)

    Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust, France, (1871-1922)

    Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, Sudan, (b. 1929)

    Selected Stories by Anton P Chekhov, Russia, (1860-1904)

    Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence, England, (1885-1930)

    The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962)

    The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata, Japan, (1899-1972)

    The Stranger by Albert Camus, France, (1913-1960)

    The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki, Japan, (c 1000)

    Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, (b. 1930)

    Thousand and One Nights, India/Iran/Iraq/Egypt, (700-1500)

    The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Germany, (b.1927)

    To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941)

    The Trial by Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924)

    Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, Ireland, (1906-1989)

    Ulysses by James Joyce, Ireland, (1882-1941)

    War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910)

    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, England, (1818-1848)

    Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece, (1883-1957)

    • This list of the 100 best books of all time was prepared by Norwegian Book Clubs. They asked 100 authors from 54 countries around the world to nominate the ten books which have had the most decisive impact on the cultural history of the world, and left a mark on the authors’ own thinking. Don Quixote was named as the top book in history but otherwise no ranking was provided

    • This article was amended on 14 March 2012. José Saramago’s entry was updated to include the year of his death.

  • Tobibs

    The section on “There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra” I totally agree with, the previous sections, well, I am not competent to talk about…I only read “Things fall apart years ago” and I remember it was a great story/novel…And I respected Achebe until his last book…Whatever he was, he probably showed to the world by the contents of that last book…When Achebe separately rejected National Awards from Obasanjo and Jonathan’s Governments, he automatically became one of my heroes, then, he wrote that book, and fell from grace…In my eyes.

  • igbiki

    Jealous Joe!

    In order to justify his inconsequential ant’s rants created a chicken and egg situation. “Nigerian leaders cannot be the miraculous changed men or women of their country but the changed men and women of their country’s changed circumstances.”

    So there are no born good Nigerians?

    There were areas in Nigeria where the people are enterprising, diligent and enlightened before the north came and turned things on its head.

    Prof Achebe was born and raised in a free, non-feudal, egalitarian, republican and democratic society were only the best of the bests are chosen and entrusted with authority.

    The author being a scumbag northerner is parasitic just like his region. He wants to ride to fame using Achebes death.


  • Muhammad Kano

    My condolence to all of you, over Achebe’s demise. This is great Prof. Intellectual analysis. I didn’t support or object what you said because of who you are or where you come from, but because you said what you said with facts. All those making noise should bring their own facts, not ignorance. Kudos!

    • reporterunsensored

      What do you mean by saying Bello-kanu supported his criticism with ‘facts’?Yes he may be a literary expert but you see my dear friend literary analysis is a subjective craft and of course he is entitled to his opinion.But in my opinion he has just hid behind the cloak of criticism to throw the kitchen sink at prof Achebe for lower motives.

  • reporterunsensored

    Prof Achebe was not only a sharp stick in the eyes of racists who sought to justify the unspeakable excesses of slavery and colonialism but also those of bello-kano and his kinsmen whom think estate-Nigeria is personal property and must be run on their own terms.I don’t expect him to love Achebe, but deep down I know the obscure mallam-professor has nothing but unquantifiable respect for the ingenuity of the departed global icon.May the great IROKO continue to rest in perfect peace!

  • The Vulture – King of Offals

    Achebe was a tribalist to the core – and there is nothing wrong with that but to try and create an image of a Nationalist in the guise of a tribalist is the greatest sin ever!

    There is no doubt he contributed to the earlier “recognition” of African literature but that by itself does not automatically qualify as a Nationalist. I stand corrected but I do not know or recollect anything Achebe did to foster unity in Nigeria. Zik did a lot and was a true Nationalist.

    Achebe will not be missed as his books will forever stand the test of time and be constant reminders of his sojourn on earth.

    • Eghosa

      When Achebe joined Aminu Kano’s party he was not fostering unity?

    • HitHard

      Awolowo was a rabid tribalist. He did everything to cause division and benefit from it. Why do people like you not speak up when other clowns call him a nationalist. He was nothing but a vainglorious Yoruba leader.

  • Ade Ade

    Shouldn’t this be a subject for intellectual discourse?

  • AchebeKingofAfricanLiterature

    Idiots would do anything for fame. This idiot chose to write an offensive article on the death of Achebe so we would talk about him. Don’t fall for it people. This is how non-musicians like Tonto Dike became a top trending topic after the release of her “song”. This clown is borrowing a leaf from her.

  • FowlYanshDonOpen

    This is how you know this writer is an illiterate using Thesaurus to fool himself – “There was a country” is a memoire, it wasn’t intended to be a novel. There is nothing scholarly about this nonsense, you purely criticize his works that describes the north as backward, which it is.

  • Uko

    For those accusing Achebe of being a tribalist, match your claims with facts (and I say this as an Ibibio man with no ethnic ties to Achebe). For those who say he didn’t tell the truth or told half-truths about Biafra, what are those truths and half-truths?

    To Prof. Bello-Kano, Achebe said if you don’t like his story, tell yours. Which one have you told? There is a reason why Achebe is known and CELEBRATED worldwide and across ethnic and racial lines (would this be possible if he were a bigot?). There is also a reason why you, Prof. Bello-Kano are only known by virtue of your attempt at denigrating a great writer and intellectual. Of course Achebe is not perfect on any social or academic level, but neither is any man, woman or child. The world, however, has adjudged his achievements to far outweigh his inadequacies. So, your effort at showcasing his flaws ends up as being quite inconsequential despite the transient period of attention that you may get from it. As a professor, you should know that it is a sign of insecurity and a lack of self-esteem that compels an individual to attain prominence through the reproof of others; in fact, it is a sickness. Instead of mauling Achebe, rise above him and achieve where he has failed.

    To Achebe, I’d like to recall two great thoughts that I believe you are already aware of: 1) Don’t bother responding to your petty critics; one day you will move so far ahead of them that you will no longer hear the noise they make. 2) When you respond to your petty critics; you actually give them power over you; so, again, don’t respond to this one.

    Back to Prof. Bello-Kano — there is the utmost likelihood that in a few months, perhaps weeks, we will no longer be talking about you. In a few years, for sure, we will no longer be talking about you. But we will still be talking about and honoring Achebe many years from now and even into the coming centuries. Ask yourself why. Things may change, however, if you tell your own story and if it emerges as being more inspiring and richer than Achebe’s story. When you write that story, please let us know. I’d gladly imbibe it and hopefully gain what you claim is missing from Achebe’s story. Otherwise, yours would be a fleeting moment of tasteless glory where you would have come and gone like the proverbial empty vessel that makes the most noise….


    Nigerians, why is it that the truth hurts us so much to an extreme? if l really got the proff write up right, it has nothing to do with ethnicity or segregation or what ever the way you people are taking this, Achebe no doubt was a great writer and will always be remembered for his ingenuity, nevertheless he wasnt perfect, particularly his last book there was a country is a book baked with half truth if at all there is no lies. please accept criticism, if he were alive when this criticism was made, l dont think he would av judge it the way you pro Achebe are taking it. please lets arise and unite in this country, let our past mistakes and history rather bring out good rather than habouring wars in our hearts or minds, cos l think the civil war lasted for three years………………. or we still want to continue?

  • Dap Sijuwade

    Thanks Prof, I think it would be nice if some of us can learn to look in the mirror before calling names. I think Achebe should have tried that old saying, man in the mirror. There is no doubt Chinue Achebe was an ethnic bigot that believed in the superiority of his Igbo ethnic group and their god given right to rule and dominate their fellow Country men. If we kicked out the British for dominating us even though we were all part of the British empire, why then does Achebe have a problem with other ethnic groups not wanting to to be dominated by another ethnic group even if they all belong to the same Country. The sad truth is that the Achebe was a part of that same old ethnic bigots and arrogant leaders that contributed to the under development of Nigeria, by their own selfish actions or inactions. The Biafran war was a good example of how our selfish leaders dragged the Country into an unnecessary civil war in which millions of lives were lost and Achebe was a part of that elite. The problem with Nigeria is more cultural and a reflection of our level of development, I do not believe one leader will come and save the country if the citizens are themselves the problem. Our leaders come from within the community and if our culture and community is still stuck in stone age mentality of greed and abuse of power, we can only expect to get leaders from that mind set. Our culture needs to change for the better before we an expect to get good leaders, that change will come only when more of us are better people and more compassionate. Today is, as it was yesterday and the day before, as the days when we sold our own brothers and sisters into slavery. Nothing as changed, we are still treating each other as the enemy instead of being our brothers keeper.