In an excerpt from his long-awaited memoir, the inventor of the post-colonial African novel in English discusses his origins as a writer and the seeds of revolt against the British Empire.
Chinua Achebe in Guernica:
On November 16, 1930, in Nnobi, near my hometown of Ogidi, providence ushered me into a world at a cultural crossroads. By then, a longstanding clash of Western and African civilizations had generated deep conversations and struggles between their respective languages, religions, and cultures.
Crossroads possess a certain dangerous potency. Anyone born there must wrestle with their multiheaded spirits and return to his or her people with the boon of prophetic vision; or accept, as I have, life’s interminable mysteries.
My initiation into the complicated world of Ndi Igbo was at the hands of my mother and my older sister, Zinobia, who furnished me with a number of wonderful stories from our ancient Igbo tradition. The tales were steeped in intrigue, spiced with oral acrobatics and song, but always resolute in their moral message. My favorite stories starred the tortoise mbe, and celebrated his mischievous escapades. As a child, sitting quietly, mesmerized, story time took on a whole new world of meaning and importance. I realize, reminiscing about these events, that it is little wonder I decided to become a storyteller. Later in my literary career I traveled back to the magic of the storytelling of my youth to write my children’s books: How the Leopard Got His Claws, Chike and the River, The Drum, and The Flute: A Children’s Story (Tortoise books).
When I think about my mother the first thing that comes to my mind is how clearly the description “the strong, silent type” fit her.