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by Chinua Achebe

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-27255-3
Publisher: Knopf

Deftly connected autobiographical essays by renowned Nigerian author Achebe (Languages and Literature/Bard Coll.; Anthills of the Savannah, 1987, etc.).

“I have news for you,” he writes. “Africa is not fiction. Africa is people, real people.” In his first new book since Anthills, Achebe challenges the economic-development experts of today, the successors of the colonialists of yesteryear. Allowing for the good intentions of both, the author examines the effects of outside tinkering with the continent, which today can take the form of bankers’ “structural adjustments” that result only in the continued immiseration of ordinary people. One source of such actions is paternalism, alluded to in the title of the collection, and Achebe allows for a bit of it in himself when he writes of his native country, “Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed, and incredibly wayward.” And terribly corrupt, as well, which is no impediment to Achebe’s call for well-meaning people to roll up their sleeves and get to work helping Africa in real ways. Achebe’s view of African realities is hard-won, born of years of exile and thousands of miles of travels across the continent. He refrains, as he notes with some irony, from lecturing on colonialism per se, but he articulates a clear view of the ill effects of colonial rule. He also revisits a number of themes addressed in other works, including his objection to the European literature surrounding Africa, notably Joseph Conrad’s ungenerous Heart of Darkness, and his championing of African writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Cheikh Hamidou Kane (“Conrad portrays a void; Hamidou Kane celebrates a human presence and a heroic if doomed struggle”). For every supposed primitive sensibility and quaint superstition to be found in Africa, Achebe observes, there’s a counterpart in America and Europe—reason enough to shed ethnocentrism and open one’s eyes.

Humane and carefully argued responses to events of recent years, coupled with a long look back at the African past.