Chinua Achebe changed the face of African literature

From The Washington Post:

Book This handsome trade paperback honors the 50th anniversary of Things Fall Apart, one of the most widely read and beloved novels of our time. It’s a true modern classic — translated into 50 languages, taught in high schools around the country, studied in college history and anthropology classes. What makes it so popular?

First off, there’s its plain, dignified English. Achebe portrays the Ibo (now Igbo) world of late 19th- and early 20th-century Nigeria with honesty about its sometimes harsh character as well as respect for its traditions. His mostly declarative sentences — leavened with occasional Ibo words and phrases — eschew the emotional, preferring to describe rituals and practices rather than judge them. Only at the very end does he allow irony into his story, and that, appropriately enough, enters with the white missionaries who gradually undermine the indigenous culture. But for most of its narrative, the simple, noble diction of Things Fall Apart recalls that of the medieval Norse sagas, which memorialize a similar world of farmer-warriors (“There was a man named Thorkil Thorkilson . . .”) The closest modern equivalent might be Hemingway describing a bullfight. The novel opens this way:

“Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called the Cat because his back would never touch the earth. It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights.”

More here.