A Dead Sun: Chinua Achebe’s “There Was A Country”

biafra-flag-grunge-1152x7201In 1966, thousands of men women and children of the Nigerian Igbo tribe were brutally and systematically murdered. What followed was the Biafran War, when the Igbo majority broke off from the rest of Nigeria to form their own state of Biafra.

The Biafran conflict left millions dead, mostly children who had starved to death. Biafra was re-absorbed into Nigeria, which today ranks with such failed states as Somalia and Afghanistan.

I began and finished this book today, and I must say that it was interesting, if not as interesting as I had hoped. I was looking for a really personal history, but Achebe gives the impression that his wounds from the period are still so fresh that he does not want to dwell on them.

Most of the book is about setting the record straight, explaining what NIgeria did to Biafra.

Achebe’s family are inserted into the narrative at odd times, sandwiched between miliary and political history. I was really disappointed that he didn’t even try to explain what it felt like to be constantly running from place to place, hiding from NIgerian troops. His wife’s constant pregnancies during this period–despite what Nigerian troops were known to do to pregnant women–is barely mentioned. His children’s reaction to constant movement and fear is never mentioned.

As a history of the Biafran conflict from someone who personally knew all the people involved, this is a good book. But as a personal story of the war, it falls flat. Interesting emotional tidbits are rare, but their power suggests what could have been a great memoir; for example, when Achebe went to Heathrow soliciting support for Biafra around the world, his initial reaction ot the sound of the planes landing was to hide under the nearest chair.

 

Fav quote:

“No small number of international political science experts found the Nigeria-Biafra War baffling, because it deviated frustratingly from their much vaunted models. But traditional Igbo philosophers, eyes ringed with white chalk and tongues dipped in the proverbial brew of prophecy, lay the scale and complexity of our situation at the feet of ethnic hatred and ekwolo–manifold rivalries between the belligerents.

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