Books are doorways to worlds outside of our own. They lead us, hand in hand, on adventures and across lands we may not have known otherwise. They help us understand life and ask us to question in new ways. Books imitate life, and life can imitate books. Author Chinua Achebe, who is today’s Google Doodle, knows this to be true, because he creates worlds that mirror our own, with the most subtle differences. The Nigerian novelist penned a collection of novels that honor his home country, Africa, and feature themes of identity and culture, specifically surrounding the African experience and colonialism.
With this in mind, we’ve picked 9 Chinua Achebe books everyone should read because their message is more clear than ever: when we honor who we are, we also honor where we came from.
Caryl Phillips of The Observer says Chinua is…
“The father of African literature in the English language and undoubtedly one of the most important writers of the second half of the twentieth century.”
So whether you’re reading Chinua’s African Trilogy, his short stories, or his poetry, may his wisdom lead you down new roads and paths to yourself, guiding you to understand this world in a new light. Pick a book, any book, from this list and get lost in a journey that’s bound to teach you something about the human experience.
The first of three novels in Chinua’s African Trilogy, Things Fall Apart explores the impact of European colonialism in Africa. The novel is narrated by Okonkwo, a “wealthy and fearless” Igbo warrior of the fictitious village of Umuofia. This novel explores how one man handles the British political forces that are trying to displace and overthrow his culture and traditions, and how this puts him at odds with his community’s response.
Arrow of God is the second novel in the African Trilogy. We’re transported back to Umuofia, where colonial rule has been introduced. We meet Ezeulu, a chief priest of the god Ulu, who’s worshipped by six other villages in Umuaro. Ezeulu finds his power under threat and is forced to examine his own nature and ideals, and his impulse to serve his god while protecting his people. This novel examines power dynamics in leadership, responsibility, and nature, all under the lens of British colonial rule.
The third and final novel in Chinua’s African Trilogy, No Longer At Ease, follows Obi Okonkwo, grandson of Okonkwo, the main character of the first novel of the series, Things Fall Apart. Obi moves from Nigeria to England in the 1950s, and his education separates him from his African roots. In this novel, we get to see both sides of the narrative Chinua has set up: African culture juxtaposed by British life. Obi finds himself trapped between two worlds — the traditional world of his ancestors and his colonial world. This novel explores this cultural limbo, and how Obi must straddle both of these identities.
There Was A Country is Chinua Achebe’s personal account of his life in Nigeria during the country’s Civil War, also known as the Biafran War, of 1967–1970. After years of silence, Chinua chose to share his story in this book that mixes memoir and history. There Was A Country infuses the author’s wisdom and compassion into his firsthand account of this war, offering new insight into the life of this influential figure.
In these twelve short stores, Chinua Achebe explores his insight into the human experience in a new way. The renowned novelist introduces us to pieces that examine the major political and social issues that African people deal with on a daily basis in contemporary society.
In Chike and the River, we’re introduced to 11-year-old Chike, who’s trying to cross the river from Niger to the city of Asaba. The only thing is, he doesn’t have the sixpence for the ferry ride. So Chike embarks on an adventure to get the money, visiting magicians and looking for ways to make the journey. But once he finally completes this task and gets to the other side of the river, he realizes things don’t quite match up to his expectations — and now he has to make the trip back home.
Two worlds collide in A Man of the People. When M.A Nanga, the Minister for Culture, recieves a visit from Odili, his former student at the ministry, it’s apparent that the two are very different. But soon, the two men’s divisions send them into personal and political turmoil, threatening to throw the country into chaos. Odili then launches a campaign against his former mentor, for his same seat in the election, and that’s when the drama really begins.
Anthills of the Savannah takes place in Kangan, a fictional West African nation, which finds itself newly independent from British rule. Now the country is run under fierce dictatorship, and Chris Oriko, a member of the president’s cabinet, and one of the leader’s oldest friends, finds himself in the middle of a conflict. When the president censors an editor of a state-run newspaper, another childhood friend of Chris’s, his loyalty is put to the test.
Chinua may be best known as a novelist and storyteller, but this collection of poems helps highlight another side to the brilliant man. Chinua’s award-winning poems are filled with wisdom and compassion, and are further evidence of the talented writer’s compassionate, observant mind.