Saturday, November 03, 2012

A New Nigerian History Book

Will Ferguson's 419 is grabbing attention these days after its Scotiabank Giller Prize win earlier this week. 419 focuses on the anti-fraud laws in Nigeria, specifically the internet scams that are infamous around the world. Ferguson's protagonist tracks down the scammer that devastated her family. But Ferguson also provides several subplots, specifically about the citizens of contemporary Nigeria, and about the trials that face them each day. Modern Nigeria is a complex place, surrounded on all sides by corruption, warlords, economic exploitation, and poverty.

A new book by Chinua Achebe expands this new history by documenting lost history: There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra is a memoir of a people, the losers in a civil war that lasted 3 years between 1967 and 1970. Achebe's new book is history written not by the victors, but by the losers. The Millions posted an article last week by Daniel Tseghay, reviewing the book. Tseghay writes, "[Achebe]’s written a segment of history still avoided by many official Nigerian texts. It’s a personal history which seems to recognize that the stories we often hear of the past are shaped by those in power. It recognizes that we will need to hear the stories of the powerless – of the defeated – if we would like a fuller picture of reality." As well, this week The New York Times Sunday Book Review has posted a review. Adam Nossiter writes that Achebe's "memoir of the moment describes when the country, yoked together artificially by British colonizers, split apart at a cost of more than a million lives."

Both articles are informative and inspire further research. Achebe's early novels Things Fall Apart and A Man of the People confront these issues head on, and The Millions article also provides several other literary examples of Nigerian history. Even though independence and war took place over 40 years ago, the people of Nigeria are still wrestling with the issues that divided the nation.

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