There was an Achebe
In the beginning was the story; but the story was without form and the world knew not of it until a son of Ogidiland was annoyed enough to give it form.
A white man had written the story of his people and portrayed them in ways he felt were bare-faced lies. For him, the rule was: if you do not like someone?s story, write your own.
But his efforts almost never saw the light of the day. The manuscript almost got lost in London, where he had sent it for typing so as to make it presentable. It was found after some months and typed out. A publisher saw sense in it. Thanks to a seven-word report from a then professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Don Macrae. His report read: ?The best first novel since the war.? Thus was born Things Fall Apart, a response to Joyce Cary?s Mr. Johnson. The year was 1958.
Albert Chinua Achebe, who wrote it, was only 27 at the time. He died in Boston, United States last Friday at 82.
After Things Fall Apart, the late Achebe wrote other books, fiction and non-fiction. But for many, it was as though he wrote only Things Fall Apart. This first novel of his defined his life and to it he owed his fame. Chinese are reading it. Indians are reading it. Americans are reading it. Britons are reading it.
At the last count, it has been translated into no less than 50 languages, the bulk of which the author himself could not vouch if the translators did justice or injustice to the original work.
Till this day, not a few still believe that Things Fall Apart was a matter of writing at the right time! For those who share this belief, this first novel was not the best of his works. Some will bet his best was A Man of the People. Not a few will queue behind No Longer At Ease. Others will ever doff their hats for his last work of fiction Anthills of the Savannah. But to the world, it is Things Fall Apart that they most remember the late Achebe for. Nothing more. Nothing less.
On account of Things Fall Apart and other works, the late Achebe was not a beggar. His death has proved that. Comets have been seen after his death.
The global media have been awash with tributes on this man of the people who was never tired of telling whoever cared to listen that the trouble with Nigeria was leadership. And when it appeared the leaders were men without ears, he twice rejected offers of national honours. Not even the offer of the third highest honour in the country could sway him.
Love him or hate, the late Achebe made his mark, through poetry, short stories, novels and essays.
If people meet when they die, he and Joseph Conrad should perhaps still be quarelling over his essay dressing him in the garb of a bloody racist for his portrayal of Africans as savages in Heart of Darkness.
His foresight in A Man of the People ?which Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi has just commissioned to be made into a film? almost got him into trouble. In it, he predicted so many things, including a coup and they all came to pass. Some still believe he was privy to the coup, a charge he denied. It was just a case of art reading the trend correctly!
Believe what you want, one thing all can testify to is that: there was an Achebe! Plain and simple!