When a literary giant announces in advance that he is working on a new masterpiece, there is bound to be much anticipation. If in addition to that the book was to be about something as decisive as the Biafra war, the anticipation becomes juggled with nervousness. It was no wonder then that Chinua Achebe’s new book “There was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra” was classed by the TIME Magazine as one of the 12 most anticipated books of Fall, 2012.
When the book was finally released, it evoked a lot of review and critique in the social media. A book about Biafra was going to be controversial anyway. The main reason being that that most people would prefer it was forgotten, and secondly fans worried about their favourite author airing what was going to be a political/personal view as the title suggested. I thought I would read the book first of all. My intention here is not to dissect and analyze the book, as I suppose anyone really interested can lay their hands on the full copy.
History is a tricky thing, and many rightly prefer to refer to it as “his-story” . This is exactly what the book is, and the author made no attempt whatsoever to hide this fact. However, stories also come with our impressions, understandings, and perceptions. I think we all ought to learn how to listen to other people’s stories even if we take what they say with a pinch of salt. We need a lot of these stories!
As an African I burn with the passion to learn the real “his-story” (also “her-story”) of the continent and its people. I would like to learn what people’s daily lives were like, how they earned their living, how they entertained themselves, the technologies they used, how they communicated and so on. What were we like before colonization? What were we like before independence? A lot of the stories available are formal, textbook style and politicized, and with little reference to real and ordinary people. The result is shameful amnesia. I call so because the problem is not that we have forgotten but that we never knew.
To be fair, a lot is passed on orally. However, this means a lot get forgotten and much fewer people get access and are able to consume these stories. I was so happy when I visited my parents earlier this year that I was able to extract some “their-stories” from them. I look forward to doing more of that because my perception of what their lives might have looked like was completely different.
Coming back to the Achebe’s book, I appreciate the book so much for the historical context. I had read so many textbook style stories about circumstances surrounding the event in the 1950s and 1960s in native Nigeria, but none had been as informative. Whether one agrees or not with conclusions made in the book is a different matter.
I will challenge everyone to interview their grand parents and parents and tell us their stories so that we can get a better understanding of our shared history!