Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Sunday, January 31, 2010

An elder speaks

It was over 40 years ago that I first read Chinua Achebe. No one has helped me understand Nigeria, imperialism, and West Africa more than Achebe. His novels offered personalized and general images of the culture, politics, and governance of Nigeria. His essays offer a Nigerian and African perspective on "life, the universe, and everything" (almost).

Some of the novels are well-known (e.g. Things Fall Apart), but his essays are less known. Home and Exile taught me even more than the novels. On top of all that, Achebe's work is approachable even to a white guy from America's middle coast. I heartily recommend any and all of his books.

Achebe has published a new book of essays, The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays, and Kaiama L. Glover reviewed it in the New York Times.

Postcolonial Everyman
“The Education of a British-­Protected Child” belies the complexity of what he calls the “strongly multiethnic, multilingual, multireligious, somewhat chaotic” situation he was born into as a colonial subject whose first passport described him as a “British Protected Person.” As the 16 essays in this collection reveal, the “education” Achebe and his fellow Nigerians received from their exploitative and racist self-proclaimed protectors “would not be a model of perfection.”...

While he very clearly — though without any particular drama — denounces colonialism, Achebe is equally clear in his intention not to be reactionary in his reactions, to concern himself with individuals rather than ideologies. This personal and political position, which he calls the “middle ground,” is defined as “the home of doubt and indecision, of suspension of disbelief, of make-believe, of playfulness, of the unpredictable, of irony.”...

Simply and directly, he addresses many of the most fraught realities of colonial and postcolonial existence for the 20th- and 21st-century West African. The tone of his book is patient and measured, his voice personable and welcoming...

“The Education of a British-Protected Child” does, however, succeed in presenting an eclectic and thorough view of Achebe in his longtime roles as writer, father and teacher...

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