This four-essay collection by Chinua Achebe is a masterful work of unapologetic genius. I loved every single word of it.
In the first essay “What is Nigeria to Me?” written in 2008, Achebe wholeheartedly opens up about his own personal and complex relationship with his country. He said it best when he wrote:
it has occurred to me that Nigeria is neither my mother nor my father. Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed, and incredibly wayward.
The hard words Nigeria and I have said to each other begin to look like words of anxious love, not hate.
He then shifts to a hopeful view of the future, by laying out what must be done by Nigerians to secure it.
Nigeria is a country where nobody can wake up in the morning and ask: what can I do now? There is work for all.
In the second essay “Traveling White” written in 1989, Achebe relates a story in which he has a “Rosa Parks” moment when he unknowingly boards the white section of a train and remains there even with the hostility of the white passengers and ticket collector.
In the third and, in my opinion, the strongest essay, “Africa’s Tarnished Name” written in 1998, Achebe analyses all the different ways in which Africa is depicted by the West. In literature, cinema, and art… He absolutely pulls no punches with his criticism of Joseph Conrad’s beloved novel “Heart of Darkness”, I have read that novel, and I agree with every single point that Achebe makes.
In the fourth and last essay “Africa is People” written in 1998, Achebe discusses the implications of the simplistic way the West talks about Africa in terms of poverty, and that no matter the subject, war, or conflict, or culture, it is always somehow related back to the financial situation of poverty. Achebe criticizes this offensive way of over-simplifying real-world issues of African countries by saying:
… but if we are fair we will admit that nothing they have done or left undone quite explains all the odds we see stacked up against them. We are sometimes tempted to look upon the poor as so many ne’er-do-wells we can simply ignore. But they will return to haunt our peace, because they are greater than their badge of suffering, because they are human.
Overall, I thought the collection was full of thought-provoking essays that still ring very true today. I highly recommend it.