No writer is better placed than Chinua Achebe to tell the story of the Nigerian Biafran war from a cultural and political perspective. Yet, apart from an interview with Transition magazine in 1968 and a book of Biafran poems, Nigeria’s most eminent novelist has kept a literary silence about the civil war in which he played a prominent role – until now. In his engrossing new memoir, There Was A Country, Achebe, now 81, finally speaks about his life during the conflict that nearly tore Nigeria apart in the late 60s.
In many ways, the early part of Achebe’s life mirrors the story of early Nigeria. Nicknamed “Dictionary”, Achebe was a gifted Igbo student and enthusiastic reader, a member of the “Lucky Generation” of young students who rubbed shoulders at top institutions under the tutelage of Oxbridge colonials. They were effortlessly absorbed into the media, industry and civil service, serving a Nigeria driven by optimism on its way to freedom from British rule.