by Chinua Achebe
More personally revealing than anything Achebe has written, Home and Exile-the great Nigerian novelist's first book in more than ten years-is a major statement on the importance of stories as real sources of power, especially for those whose stories have traditionally been told by outsiders.
In three elegant essays, Achebe seeks to rescue African culture from narratives written about it by Europeans. Looking through the prism of his experiences as a student in English schools in Nigeria, he provides devastating examples of European cultural imperialism. He examines the impact that his novel Things Fall Apart had on efforts to reclaim Africa's story. And he argues for the importance of writing and living the African experience because, he believes, Africa needs stories told by Africans.
Though it is labeled autobiographical by the publisher, this small book, which originated as three lectures given at Harvard University in December 1998, barely covers the rudiments of Achebe's long and productive life (he is now 70). But the great Nigerian novelist and poet, a master of compression, needs little more than 100 pages to tell the dramatic story of the emergence of a native African literature; in the 1950s, students at English-dominated universities started speaking out against the long European tradition of depicting Africans as "a people of beastly living, without a God, laws, religion," which dates back to Captain John Lok's voyage to West Africa in 1561. "Until the lions produce their own historian," says Achebe, quoting an African proverb of uncertain provenance, "the story of the hunt will glorify only the hunter." With characteristic ease and economy, he traces the long African tradition of asserting the worth of the individual, born of Igbo myths that described each community as created separately with its own original ancestor. This notion of individuality, which made the Africans vulnerable to the Atlantic slave traders and to colonial occupation, is the same quality that defined the native African fiction and poetry that emerged in the 1950s, at the time of independence for many African nations. This slim volume--told in Achebe's subtle, witty and gracious style--is one of those small gems of literary and historical analysis that readers will treasure and reread over the years. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Chinua Achebe is a professor of language and literature at Bard College. He lives in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
Paperback: 115 pages