“Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.”
– Chinua Achebe (“The Truth of Fiction”)
Dear Chinua Achebe,
The world has lost one of the greatest authors in African literature.
The first novel that I read from you was Things Fall Apart, a story that depicts the life of Okonkwo, leader of an Igbo village and a former wrestling champion, and the conflicts that he has to face due to the Igbo traditional culture and British colonialism. All I can remember is that I enjoyed the book when I first read it for American Literature when I was in high school, but I was a bit depressed by the ending. That was the extent of my feelings for the novel. Things Fall Apart was a required reading and like most required readings I had in high school, I didn’t feel its impact or understand the novel’s themes and message. Not to make any excuses, but I was ignorant as a teenager. I hadn’t developed an appreciation for novels that did not deal with modern-day teenagers and their fickle lives. I don’t remember my teacher ever talked in depth about the issue of colonialism in written text.
Fast forward to years later, I had to reread Things Fall Apart when I took British Literature II, a major requirement in the English degree, in college. I have to be honest, when I picked up the novel, I could only remember that I had read it since the title was familiar to be, but I couldn’t remember what it was about. However, when I reread the novel, I was in awe of the story and the way the stories – the clash between culture and colonialism – intertwine around Okonkwo. I usually read novels about colonialism written by Europeans, so I was (still am) extremely thankful that there was a novel that told the other side. You wrote from the African point of view, portraying a different perspective to the issue and thus showing that people misunderstand different cultures. You do not know how tired I was reading works that portrayed Africans as “savages.” Like really? Why do those writers, who wrote about colonialism, dehumanize people and cultures they have no knowledge of? Maybe that’s the answer to my question. They do not know; they only know their imagination.
I have not read your other books, so I am limited to just Things Fall Apart, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate your writing. You were an excellent writer, who wrote what you knew and shaped the African Literature into its own.
Rest in peace.