There was a Country by Chinua Achebe: Book Review

  • Title : There was a Country; A Personal History of Biafra
  • Author : Chinua Achebe
  • Genre : Autobiography/ History
  • Publisher : Penguin
  • Release Date : September 2012

For more than forty years, Chinua Achebe maintained a considered silence on the events of the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War, of 1967–1970, addressing them only obliquely through his poetry. Decades in the making, There Was a Country is a towering account of one of modern Africa’s most disastrous events, from a writer whose words and courage left an enduring stamp on world literature. A marriage of history and memoir, vivid firsthand observation and decades of research and reflection, There Was a Country is a work whose wisdom and compassion remind us of Chinua Achebe’s place as one of the great literary and moral voices of our age.

Ever wondered the victims of war flourished throughout those times, especially those whom seem to be the minority, well this book gives us the nitty-gritty of it all.

Mr Achebe gives a brief overview of his life as a teenager and his family before being sent to one of the few notable secondary schools in the country where he met people who would later turn out to be part of the history of Nigeria in several capacities. He got admission to the University College to study Medicine before switching to his the Arts, his passion.

As he talks about the post colonial situation of Nigeria, he also gives us full information about his education, adulthood, marriage, his writing life and how he served Biafra in several capacities. He was already a renowned author before the news of the coup broke out that tore Nigeria apart.

My Thoughts

My country’s history has always been an interesting topic to me, from the snippets that I was taught in school. I am very much upset that our History is not being taught in schools, the younger generation need to know their roots, it would make them understand current situations.

From the moment this book was in my hands, it was very difficult for me to drop. I was living and breathing Biafra, shaking my head while sighing heavily because the issues that Nigeria faces presently have been in the works since the Independence in 1960.

My heart bled reading all the accounts of the massacres, the starvation caused by the blockade by the Nigerian Government and the diseases that plagued the Biafran nation during the war.

You know there is a saying; “Necessity is the mother of invention”; the Biafran army surprised me with their ingenuity. The shortage of weapons lead them to inventing theirs; one of which was a terror to the Nigerian Army. One “invention” that had me excited was how the Airports were camouflaged during the day, oblivious to the Nigerian Army while activities carried on smoothly at night. This even shocked the International communities and visitors to Biafra.

The writing was simple and easy to comprehend as well as the transition into the events as things happened. He described occasions timely , as though one was truly in Biafra as the war was happening ( although, you really do not want to be there literally). The characters were relatable especially the major ones as you venture further into their lives and their reasons for doing what they did.

Surely, learning your roots is a topic one should be highly enthused about, most importantly a War such as this that was one of the most disastrous the world had seen. I recommend this book, it would definitely speak to your soul (if you are being honest), and then realise that Nigeria would be a great nation if we all could live as one.

On this note, I would be starting a series known as the “Nigerian Civil War Series” where books on the war as well as articles would be shared and reviewed. If possible, I can get personal experiences from the older citizens who were alive during those difficult times.

I did get a little personal experience from my Dad who was alive at that moment. We come from Delta state and our language happens to be part of the minor ones in Nigeria – Ukwani.

It is a totally different dialect of Igbo, if you listen closely, an Igbo person would understand what is being spoken with the exception of a few words. Despite the difference, we still we considered as Igbo people and it meant that if caught by the Nigerian Army, instant death was the case.

He spoke about how every Ukwani person had to go back to their villages in Anioma – this should be in Delta state, they stayed in clusters so that no one would be missing. Everyone knew everyone, it was a relatively small town.

If you know anyone who schooled in University of Nigeria, Nsukka; their pride is just as a lion (which is a lot to say as they call themselves Lions and Lionesses). My father schooled there, as it was at that moment, the first President of Nigeria, Nnamdi Azikiwe lived on that campus during that period. “Zik” as he was popularly called who send people to calm the students down when they were disturbing the peace. He also got to meet Chinua Achebe too.

My father said these proudly while I was jealous, listening to him. I mean, he got to MEET THE GREAT ACHEBE!!

Enough of my jealous rant, have you read the book?

What were your thoughts? Would you be interested in learning more about the Nigerian Civil War?

Do let me know…




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