Two days ago, an amazing writer of our generation died: Chinua Achebe. Strangely enough, I first heard his name as I was reading an Art History textbook. The authors were discussing African art and culture, and they listed Achebe as an immovable fixture in the 20th and 21st century culture. It is not often that literature is mentioned in these art textbooks, and this struck me on two levels: 1. This author must be incredibly important and talented to be referenced; and 2. Why had I never heard of him before??
I quickly corrected this and picked up a copy of Things Fall Apart, which is often referred to as one of Africa's greatest novels. I remember reading it with interest, but I found the ending to be so profound that it thundered through me. I couldn't move for a few moments as I considered his final words and looked through my own heart. Somehow, Achebe managed to challenge his readers and moralize them without lecturing or condemning them. He spoke from his heart as an African, but it is important not to limit his eulogy in those terms. From what I understand, he was torn in his sense of identity, and I believe you can feel that in his writing. He recognized the beauty and the darkness in his life and his world, and he did not strive to reveal one more than the other. But his talent was so evident in his writing that he put African literature on an international stage, just as Gabriel Garcia Marquez did for the Latin Americans and Tolstoy did for the Russians. I do believe Achebe will be immortalized in Classic Literature, and righty so. Thus, I wanted to take a moment today to honor this great author, one who lived and wrote during my lifetime, and whose works I greatly enjoy and will treasure.
The New Yorker published a wonderful article about Achebe, which you can read here.
You can also read my full review of Things Fall Apart in an earlier blog entry.