Life and Times of Chinua Achebe – Book review

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By Biko Agozino 

 I was privileged to preview this new book, The life and times of Chinua Achebe released by the Toyin Falola ‘Global Africa’ Series with Routledge. Dr. Kalu Ogbaa’s book will be an eye-opener even for established scholars who may not have had the author’s long history of association with the great Achebe. 

Early on, as an undergraduate student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, he canvassed for Achebe to be appointed as a Professor in English rather than be ghettoized as a researcher in African Studies just because he did not have a doctoral degree in English even while his books were being used to teach in English. Kalu Ogbaa went on to complete his doctoral dissertation on Achebe at the University of Texas, Austin, and his ground-breaking dissertation yielded multiple influential publications. 

He is exceptionally qualified to write about his friend, Achebe, and thereby enlighten scholars and the general public about lessons that we learn from Achebe’s leadership and scholar-activism while correcting the misconceptions about his works. This new book is a tour de force on the life, times and works of Chinua Achebe. 

Dr. Ogbaa has delivered a work that is rich in what C.W. Mills termed The Sociological Imagination by tying the biography of the famous author and his influential works to the major public issues of his troubled times. Mills predicted that the obsession with abstract grand theory and disjointed empiricism by sociologists was likely to result in the best sociologists being journalists. 

That prediction was indirectly echoed by Achebe in his last book, There Was a Country, in which he flung an njakiri (or played the dozens) by reminding possible critics that he did not claim to be a sociologist, political scientist, human rights lawyer, or official and that all he was offering was his modest personal history of Biafra. 

This is a joke on the social scientists and lawyers in who went a major genocidal war that claimed 3.1 million people in 30 months but never found the courage or the will to research such a huge disaster and abandoned the task to soldiers and creative writers. 

 The rare exceptions include Ikenna Nzimiro’s sociological thesis stating that the war involved class conflict and not just ethnic sentiments (as Walter Rodney also observed in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa). The political theory of the imposed neocolonial ‘genocidist state’ by Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe and the historical texts of Arthur Nwankwo on the lessons to be learned from Biafra by a that was doomed were among the exceptions that were not doctoral dissertations or edited volumes of essays. 

 Having interviewed Achebe extensively when he was alive, Dr. Ogbaa has the benefit of understanding Achebe’s leadership philosophy, personality and moral character better than those who only knew him from his literary and political works or from interpretations that may be flawed. 

 I recommend this book without spoilers to all levels of readers because it is written in accessible language and promises to reveal many little-known details of the times, life and works of Chinua Achebe. 

Ask your libraries to order copies if you cannot afford a copy and invite Dr. Ogbaa to bring his book tour by Zoom or in person to your campus or community to engage your students, colleagues, and community members with his inspiring work.