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There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra
From the legendary author of Things Fall Apart comes this long-awaited memoir recalling Chinua Achebe’s personal experiences of and reflections on the Biafran War, one of Nigeria’s most tragic civil wars.
Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart, was a writer whose moral courage and storytelling gifts have left an enduring stamp on world literature. There Was a Country was his long-awaited account of coming of age during the defining experience of his life: the Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War of 1967-1970. It became infamous around the world for its impact on the Biafrans, who were starved to death by the Nigerian government in one of the twentieth century’s greatest humanitarian disasters.
Caught up in the atrocities were Chinua Achebe and his young family. Achebe, already a world-renowned novelist, served his Biafran homeland as a roving cultural ambassador, witnessing the war’s full horror first-hand. Immediately after the war, he took an academic post in the United States, and for over forty years he maintained a considered silence on those terrible years, addressing them only obliquely through his poetry. After years in the making, There Was a Country presents his towering reckoning with one of modern Africa’s most fateful experiences, both as he lived it and came to understand it.
Marrying history and memoir, with the author’s poetry woven throughout, There Was a Country is a distillation of vivid observation and considered research and reflection. It relates Nigeria’s birth pangs in the context of Achebe’s own development as a man and a writer, and examines the role of the artist in times of war.
‘No writer is better placed than Chinua Achebe to tell the story of the Nigerian Biafran war … [The book] makes you pine for the likes of Achebe to govern … We have in There Was a Country an elegy from a master storyteller who has witnessed the undulating fortunes of a nation.’ Noo Saro-Wiwa, Guardian
‘Chinua Achebe’s history of Biafra is a meditation on the condition of freedom. It has the tense narrative grip of the best fiction. It is also a revelatory entry into the intimate character of the writer’s brilliant mind and bold spirit. Achebe has created here a new genre of literature.’ Nadine Gordimer
‘Part-history, part-memoir, [Achebe’s] moving account of the war is laced with anger, but there is also an abiding tone of regret for what Nigeria might have been without conflict and mismanagement.’ Sunday Times
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Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He published novels, short stories, essays, and children's books. His volume of poetry, Christmas in Biafra, was the joint winner of the first Commonwealth Poetry Prize. Of his novels, Arrow of God won the New Statesman-Jock Campbell Award, and Anthills of the Savannah was a finalist for the 1987 Booker Prize. Things Fall Apart, Achebe's masterpiece, has been published in fifty different languages and has sold more than ten million copies. Achebe lectured widely, receiving many honors from around the world. He was the recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award, Nigeria's highest award for intellectual achievement. In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize.
He died in 2013.