Chinua Achebe, Nigerian-born writer and poet, has died after a brief illness, said his publisher and agent in London on Friday, March 22. He was 82.
Achebe was black Africa's most widely read novelist and one of the continent's most prolific men of letters. His novels, essays, short stories, and poems are rooted in his native Nigeria, spanning the countryside and the cities of the country both pre- and post-independence from British colonial rule. His most memorable characters are those who are torn between traditional African values and the infiltration of Western culture through colonization.
Chinua Achebe is most widely known for his novel "Things Fall Apart", published in 1958. "Things Fall Apart" has been translated into 45 languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide.
Set in pre-colonial Nigeria, the novel follows the story of Okonkwo, a young man who strives for wealth and status in his tribe. The arrival of British colonizers threatens everything that he holds dear and Okonkwo's inability to adapt to the new status quo leads to his destruction.
"Things Fall Apart" was not well received at publication. Some British critics felt that it idealized pre-colonial Nigeria at the expense of the empire. However, its artful descriptions of Ibo traditions and rituals, in addition to Achebe's talent as a writer, led to its inclusion in the literary canon. It is considered a classic in world literature and is required reading in many university courses in the United States and abroad.
Over the years, Achebe's stature among literary circles grew until he was considered a literary and political luminary. His political thinking evolved from sharp criticisms of colonialism, blaming colonial rule for the deterioration of Africa, to a honed critique of African rulers and citizens for accepting corruption and violence in due course.
Mr. Achebe, a university professor, has lived in the United States for many years after being forced abroad by Nigeria's bloody civil war in the 1960s, followed by a strict military dictatorship in the 1980s and 1990s. Through it all, he never lost faith in the ability of storytellers and writers to triumph over even the most savage of strongmen.
In his 1988 novel, "Anthills of the Savannah", an old soothsayer observes, "Only the story can continue beyond the war and the warrior. It is the story that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind.”