Chinua Achebe, author of more than 20 books, and with many honors including the 2007 Man Booker International Prize for Fiction has died. He was 82.
Besides novels, Mr. Achebe’s works included powerful essays and poignant short stories and poems rooted in the countryside and cities of his native Nigeria, before and after independence from British colonial rule. His most memorable fictional characters were buffeted and bewildered by the conflicting pulls of traditional African culture and invasive Western values.
For inspiration, Mr. Achebe drew on his own family history as part of the Ibo nation of southeastern Nigeria, a people victimized by the racism of British colonial administrators and then by the brutality of military dictators from other Nigerian ethnic groups.
Mr. Achebe burst onto the world literary scene with the publication in 1958 of his first novel, “Things Fall Apart,” which sold millions of copies and was translated into 45 different languages.
Set in the Ibo countryside in the late 19th century, the novel tells the story of Okonkwo, who rises from poverty to become an affluent farmer and village leader. But with the advent of British colonial rule and cultural values, Okonkwo’s life is thrown into turmoil. In the end, unable to adapt to the new status quo, he explodes in frustration, killing an African in the employ of the British and then committing suicide.
The novel, which is also compelling for its descriptions of traditional Ibo society and rituals, went on to become a classic of world literature and was often listed as required reading in university courses in Europe and the United States.
But when it was first published, “Things Fall Apart” did not receive unanimous acclaim. Some British critics thought it idealized pre-colonial African culture at the expense of the former empire.
“An offended and highly critical English reviewer in a London Sunday paper titled her piece cleverly, I must admit Hurray to Mere Anarchy!” wrote Mr. Achebe in “Home and Exile,” a collection of autobiographical essays that appeared in 2000. A few other novels by Mr. Achebe early in his career were occasionally criticized by reviewers as being stronger on ideology than on narrative interest.
But over the years, Mr. Achebe’s stature grew until he was considered a literary and political beacon.