Things Fall Into Place for Chinua Achebe

Bob Thompson in The Washington Post (via bookforum): Ph2008030700997

Chinua Achebe has been asked to consider a simple thought experiment:

Suppose someone had told him, 50 years ago, that his first novel soon would be known all over the world? That “Things Fall Apart,” published in 1958, would go on to sell around 11 million copies in something like 45 languages? That at the dawn of the 21st century, his own daughter would be teaching it to American college students?

What would he have said?

“I don’t think there was anybody who would have thought that up,” he replies. “If anyone did, I would say they were out of their mind.”

At this, the writer who changed the way the world looked at Africa throws back his head and laughs.

Achebe is sitting in the living room of his modest, wheelchair-friendly house on the campus of Bard College. Silver-haired and frail at 77, 18 years removed from the Nigerian car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, he speaks in a voice so quiet that a tape recorder at times has trouble picking it up.

But his laugh — infectious and accompanied by a wide grin — comes through every time.