Riding on the Crests of the Success of Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe’s International Celebrity

Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s book Things Fall Apart when first published by William Heinemann in 1958 was received well by the British press with positive reviews from critic Walter Allen and novelist Angus Wilson. Three days after publication, the Times Literary Supplement wrote that the book „genuinely succeeds in presenting tribal life from the inside“. The Observer called it „an excellent novel“, and the literary magazine Time and Tide said that „Mr. Achebe’s style is a model for aspirants“.

Initial reception in Nigeria was mixed. Hill’s attempts to promote the book in West Africa, was met with skepticism and ridicule. The faculty at the University of Ibadan was amused at the thought of a worthwhile novel being written by an alumnus. Others were more supportive. A review in the magazine Black Orpheus said: „The book as a whole creates for the reader such a vivid picture of Ibo life that the plot and characters are little more than symbols representing a way of life lost irrevocably within living memory.“

An instant event in Nigeria but reviewed mildly in the United States when first published (the initial New York Times review ran less than 500 words)

No book by an African has been so deeply discussed or so widely influential.“ There were books by Africans before `Things Fall Apart,‘ but this is the one everyone goes back to,“ says Kwame Anthony Appiah, a leading African scholar who wrote the introduction to the Everyman’s Library edition of „Things Fall Apart.“

Things Fall Apart has become one of the most important books in African literature. Its publication is often cited as the birth of modern African literature, and since its publication the book has sold over 12 million copies in 50 countries. It has been translated into over 50 languages making its author the most translated African author of all time. It has appeared on numerous lists of the 100 greatest novels of all time, including ones published in Norway (Norwegian Book Club), England (Guardian and Observer), America (Radcliffe Publishing Course list of top 100 novels of the 20th century; Time Magazine) and Africa (Africa’s Best Books of the 20th Century). It remains required reading in schools and universities around the world and is one of the most widely read and influential books ever written. It has generated a wealth of literary criticism grappling with Achebe’s unsentimental representations of tradition, religion, manhood, and the colonial experience. Its immediate success secured Achebe’s position both in Nigeria and in the West as a pre-eminent voice among Africans writing in English.

The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote that for Americans it is „the quintessential novel about Africa.“ In fact, it is the foundation of tens of thousands of college students‘ introduction to the continent, and forms many of our ideas of the place even today.

In 1992 Achebe became the only living author represented in the prestigious Everyman’s Library collection published by Alfred A. Knopf. His 60th birthday was celebrated at the University of Nigeria by „an international Who’s Who in African Literature“. One observer noted: „Nothing like it had ever happened before in African literature anywhere on the continent.“ The work which like Shakespearean plays lends itself to multiple layers of interpretation which are revealed with every new reading is now anthologized in the Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Many writers of succeeding generations credit this work as having paved the way for their efforts. One of the most celebrated young Nigerian writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, says that she read Things Fall Apart when she was around 8 and has periodically reread it. „I find that I liked the same things each time — the familiarity with it. I hadn’t realized that people like me could be in a book,“ she explains.

Countless others from Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, who once called „Things Fall Apart,“ a „major education“ for me, to Ha Jin, a Chinese-American novelist have cited Achebe’s remarkable feat. Achebe himself recalls some letters he received about a decade ago from students at a women’s college in South Korea:

„It surprised me also in the sense I realized that people in different places would be reading it from totally different positions, positions I didn’t think they knew about,“ he says.

„They (the students) said to me, many of them, that this was like their story. And I said to myself, `Korea? I don’t know Korea. And I don’t know what their story is.‘ They explained that they were also colonized, by the Japanese. That simple fact of colonization was enough to make someone so far away come to terms quickly with this story.

Achebe subsequently wrote several novels spanning more than a century of African history. Although most of them deal with specifically Nigeria, they are also emblematic of the „metaphysical landscape“ of Africa, a view of the world and of the whole cosmos perceived from a particular position. Achebe, who is 78, has written five novels, including Arrow of God (1964) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), five books of nonfiction, and several collections of short stories and poems.

Though Achebe encourages writers from the Third World to stay where they are and write about their own countries, as a way to help achieve balance in storytelling, yet he himself has lived in the United States for the past ten years — a reluctant exile.

Things Fall Apart is being celebrated, according to organisers of events to mark 50 years since its first publication, because of several distinctions it has earned including the following:

o It is the very first authentic African story told in the authentic original African style.

o It answered some critical socio-anthropological questions asked by previous non African writers

o It opened the grand door for writing about Africa by Africans which has led to what is today, African literature and is leading the way about thirty years after the book was written, for Achebe’s country man, Wole Soyinka to have won the Nobel Prize followed by other Africans.

o The book has been translated into over 50 languages

o It has over 12 million copies in print.

o The book has over 50 Awards to its credit and it is still counting.

o Primarily for the success of this book, the author has been counted as one of the hundred most intelligent men of the last century.

o The book clearly represents excellence in quality writing as much as the undying power of the value of a creative work. It also speaks the power of hard work and its accompanying premium, success.

At the age of 78, Chinua Achebe is living in grace and in exile, housed in a cottage built just for him on the campus of Bard College. Achebe arrived at Bard in 1990, not long after an auto accident in Nigeria left him paralyzed from the waist down.

On March 22, 1990 Achebe was riding in a car to Lagos when an axle suddenly collapsed and the car flipped. His son and the driver suffered minor injuries, but the weight of the vehicle fell on Achebe severely damaging his spine. He was flown to a Hospital in Buckinghamshire England, and treated. In July doctors announced that although he was recuperating well, he was paralyzed from the waist down and would require the use of a wheelchair for the rest of his life. While recuperating in this hospital, he received a call from Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, offering him a teaching job and a house built for his needs. Achebe thought he would be at Bard, a small school in a quiet corner of the Hudson River Valley, for only a year or two, but the worsening political situation in Nigeria especially during the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha, from 1993 to 1998, with much of Nigeria’s wealth going into the pocket of its leader, and public infrastructure like hospitals and roads, withering led him to extend his stay. Achebe concern for the state of his country is seen in his refusal to accept one of Nigeria’s highest honors – Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) . He is however waiting for healthy and hopeful signals for him to return.

Soon after his discharge from hospital, Achebe became the Charles P. Stevenson Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York; a position he has held for over fifteen years. As a longtime professor of languages and literature, he speaks warmly of the students who seem to know his work well, but Achebe has not completed a novel in more than 20 years, for he has no desire to set any fiction in the U.S., saying it would not be „the most important thing for me to do, because there are so many people doing it.“ While he is currently working on two or three projects, nothing is close to completion and he acknowledges that „a novel is certainly overdue.“ In October 2005, the Financial Times reported that he was planning to write a novella for the Canongate Myth Series, a series of short novels in which ancient myths from myriad cultures are reimagined and rewritten by contemporary authors. Achebe’s novella has not yet been scheduled for publication.

A perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize Achebe won last year In June, 2007, the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in fiction. Achebe, often referred to as the father of African literature, has received numerous awards, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize; the New Statesman Jock Campbell Prize; the Margaret Wrong Prize; the Nigerian National Trophy in 1961; and the Nigerian National Merit Award, Nigeria’s highest recognition of intellectual achievement, in 1979. Achebe is an Honorary Fellow of the Modem Language Association of America (1975); a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature of London (1981); and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1982). He has been awarded the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. Recently, in November last year, he received the prestigious National Medal of Honor for literature from America’s National Arts Club.

Professor Achebe is also the recipient of forty honorary degrees from universities in England, Scotland, Canada, South Africa, Nigeria and the United States, including Dartmouth (1972), Harvard (1996), Brown (1998), Southampton, Guelph (Canada), Cape Town (2002) and the University of Ife (Nigeria). In 1982 when he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Kent, Professor Robert Gibson said at the ceremony that the Nigerian author „is now revered as Master by the younger generation of African writers and it is to him they regularly turn for counsel and inspiration.“ His impact resonates strongly in literary circles. Novelist Margaret Atwood called him „a magical writer – one of the greatest of the twentieth century“. Maya Angelou lauded Things Fall Apart as a book wherein „all readers meet their brothers, sisters, parents and friends and themselves along Nigerian roads“. Nelson Mandela, recalling his time as a political prisoner, once referred to Achebe as a writer „in whose company the prison walls fell down.“

In June 2007, when Achebe was awarded the Man Booker International Prize the judging panel included US critic Elaine Showalter, who said he „illuminated the path for writers around the world seeking new words and forms for new realities and societies“; and South African writer Nadine Gordimer, who said Achebe has achieved „what one of his characters brilliantly defines as the writer’s purpose: ‚a new-found utterance‘ for the capture of life’s complexity“.

Immobilienmakler Heidelberg

Makler Heidelberg

Source by Arthur Smith

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