There was a country : a personal history of Biafra /
Chinua Achebe.
New York : Penguin Press, 2012.
333 pages : maps ; 25 cm
1594204829, 9781594204821
More Details
New York : Penguin Press, 2012.
contents note
Pioneers of a new frontier -- The magical years -- A primary exposure -- Leaving home -- The formative years at Umuahia and Ibadan. The Umuahia experience ; The Ibadan experience -- Meeting Christie and her family -- Discovering Things fall apart -- A lucky generation -- The march to independence -- The cradle of Nigerian nationalism -- Post-independence Nigeria -- The decline -- The role of the writer in Africa -- 1966 (poem) -- January 15, 1966, coup -- The dark days -- Benin road (poem) -- A history of ethnic tension and resentment -- The army -- Countercoup and assassination -- The pogroms -- Penalty of Godhead (poem) -- The Aburi Accord -- Generation gap (poem) -- The nightmare begins -- The Nigeria-Biafra war. The Biafran position ; The Nigerian argument ; The role of the Organization of African Unity -- The triangle game : the UK, France, and the United States -- The writers and intellectuals -- The war and the Nigerian intellectual -- The life and work of Christopher Okigbo -- The major Nigerian actors in the conflict : Ojukwu and Gowon. The aristocrat ; The gentleman general -- The first shot (poem) -- The Biafran invasion of the Mid-West -- Gowon regroups -- The Asaba massacre -- Biafran repercussions -- Blood, blood, everywhere -- The Calabar massacre -- Biafra, 1969 (poem) -- The Republic of Biafra. The intellectual foundation of a new nation -- The Biafran state. The Biafran flag ; The Biafran national anthem ; The military ; Ogbunigwe ; Biafran tanks ; A tiger joins the army ; Freedom fighters -- Traveling on behalf of Biafra -- Refugee mother and child (A mother in a refugee camp) (poem) -- Life in Biafra -- The Abagana ambush -- Air raid (poem) -- The Citadel Press -- The Ifeajuna manuscript -- Staying alive -- Death of the poet : "Daddy, don't let him die!" -- Mango seedling (poem) -- Refugees -- We laughed at him (poem) -- The media war -- Narrow escapes -- Vultures (poem) -- The fight to the finish -- The economic blockade and starvation -- The silence of the United Nations -- Azikiwe withdraws support for Biafra -- The recapture of Owerri -- Biafra takes an old rig : "The Kwale incident" -- 1970 and the fall -- The question of genocide -- The arguments -- The case against the Nigerian government -- Gowon responds -- Nigeria's painful transitions : a reappraisal -- Corruption and indiscipline -- State failure and the rise of terrorism -- State resuscitation and recovery -- After a war (poem) -- Postscript: The example of Nelson Mandela -- Appendix: Brigadier Banjo's broadcast to Mid-West.
Achebe's 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.
catalogue key
Gift to Victoria University Library. Vosburgh, Elizabeth. 2012/11/19.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter

An Igbo proverb tells us that a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.

The rain that beat Africa began four to five hundred years ago, from the “discovery” of Africa by Europe, through the transatlantic slave trade to the Berlin Conference of 1885. That controversial gathering of the world’s leading European powers precipitated what we now call the Scramble for Africa, which created new boundaries that did violence to Africa’s ancient societies and resulted in tension-prone modern states. It took place without African consultation or representation, to say the least.

Great Britain was handed the area of West Africa that would later become Nigeria, like a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party. It was one of the most populous regions on the African continent, with over 250 ethnic groups and distinct languages. The northern part of the country was the seat of several ancient kingdoms, such as the Kanem-Bornu—which Usman dan Fodio and his jihadists absorbed into the Muslim Fulani Empire. The Middle Belt of Nigeria was the locus of the glorious Nok Kingdom and its world-renowned terra-cotta sculptures. The southern protectorate was home to some of the region’s most sophisticated civilizations. In the west, the Oyo and Ife kingdoms once flourished majestically, and in the midwest the incomparable Benin Kingdom elevated artistic distinction to a new level. Across the Niger River in the East, the Calabar and the Nri kingdoms flourished. If the Berlin Conference sealed her fate, then the amalgamation of the southern and northern protectorates inextricably complicated Nigeria’s destiny. Animists, Muslims, and Christians alike were held together by a delicate, some say artificial, lattice.

Britain’s indirect rule was a great success in northern and western Nigeria, where affairs of state within this new dispensation continued as had been the case for centuries, with one exception—there was a new sovereign, Great Britain, to whom all vassals pledged fealty and into whose coffers all taxes were paid. Indirect rule in Igbo land proved far more challenging to implement. Colonial rule functioned through a newly created and incongruous establishment of “warrant chiefs”—a deeply flawed arrangement that effectively confused and corrupted the Igbo democratic spirit.

Africa’s postcolonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit of ruling themselves. We have also had difficulty running the new systems foisted upon us at the dawn of independence by “our colonial masters.” Because the West has had a long but uneven engagement with the continent, it is imperative that it understands what happened to Africa. It must also play a part in the solution. A meaningful solution will require the goodwill and concerted efforts on the part of all those who share the weight of Africa’s historical burden.

Most members of my generation, who were born before Nigeria’s independence, remember a time when things were very different. Nigeria was once a land of great hope and progress, a nation with immense resources at its disposal—natural resources, yes, but even more so, human resources. But the Biafran war changed the course of Nigeria. In my view it was a cataclysmic experience that changed the history of Africa.

It is for the sake of the future of Nigeria, for our children and grandchildren, that I feel it is important to tell Nigeria’s story, Biafra’s story, our story, my story.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2012-08-01:
Shortly after gaining independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria was subject to a military coup and countercoup that resulted in the massacre of thousands of Igbo citizens. Fleeing to the east, the Igbo proclaimed the eastern region of the country the independent Republic of Biafra. The ensuing civil war ended in 1970 with Biafra's defeat. Achebe (Things Fall Apart) lends his voice to this bloody period in Nigeria's history through a blend of insightful political analysis, history, and memoir, interspersed with his poetry. Because of his prominence as an author and intellectual, Achebe was an integral part of the Biafran government, serving as a cultural ambassador. Yet he was also an Igbo trying to make sense of the brutality and keep his family safe. Achebe's personal stake in the Biafran war makes his account more than just a standard historical retelling. His writing reveals his love and sorrow for his people and his hope for Nigeria's future. VERDICT Achebe's book will appeal to scholars of Africa, but its reach will extend to all readers interested in learning more about the author's life and the life of his country.-Veronica Arellano Douglas, St. Mary's Coll. of Maryland Lib., St. Mary's City (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review Quotes
"Achebe writes in a characteristically modest fashion. It is without restraint but not without tact that his body of work has protested mediocrity in its various forms, from the British colonial apparatus, to the world's ignorance of African literatures, to the corrosive mismanagement that has plagued Nigeria. Like much of Achebe's other work, this book about the progress of war and the presence of violence has a universal quality. In a world where sectarian hatreds augmented by political mediocrity have fractured Syria and threaten to bring Israel and Iran to blows, There Was a Countryis a valuable account of how the suffering caused by war is both unnecessary and formative." - Newsweek "Memoir and history are brought together by a master storyteller." - The Guardian
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, August 2012
Booklist, September 2012
Kirkus Reviews, September 2012
Globe & Mail, November 2012
Los Angeles Times, November 2012
New York Times Book Review, November 2012
New York Times Full Text Review, November 2012
San Francisco Chronicle, November 2012
PW Annex Reviews, December 2012
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Main Description
From the legendary author of "Things Fall Apart" comes a long awaited memoir about coming of age with a fragile new nation, then watching it torn asunder in a tragic civil war.
Main Description
From the legendary author ofThings Fall Apart comes a longawaited memoir about coming of age with a fragile new nation, then watching it torn asunder in a tragic civil war The defining experience of Chinua Achebe's life was the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War, of 19671970. The conflict was infamous for its savage impact on the Biafran people, Chinua Achebe's people, many of whom were starved to death after the Nigerian government blockaded their borders. By then, Chinua Achebe was already a world-renowned novelist, with a young family to protect. He took the Biafran side in the conflict and served his government as a roving cultural ambassador, from which vantage he absorbed the war's full horror. Immediately after, Achebe took refuge in an academic post in the United States, and for more than forty years he has maintained a considered silence on the events of those terrible years, addressing them only obliquely through his poetry. Now, decades in the making, comes a towering reckoning with one of modern Africa's most fateful events, from a writer whose words and courage have left an enduring stamp on world literature. Achebe masterfully relates his experience, bothas he lived it and how he has come to understand it. He begins his story with Nigeria's birth pangs and the story of his own upbringing as a man and as a writer so that we might come to understand the country's promise, which turned to horror when the hot winds of hatred began to stir. To read There Was a Countryis to be powerfully reminded that artists have a particular obligation, especially during a time of war. All writers, Achebe argues, should be committed writers-they should speak for their history, their beliefs, and their people. Marrying history and memoir, poetry and prose, There Was a Countryis a distillation of vivid firsthand observation and forty years of research and reflection. Wise, humane, and authoritative, it will stand as definitive and reinforce Achebe's place as one of the most vital literary and moral voices of our age.
Description for Library
Best known for the novel Things Fall Apart, which has sold ten million copies worldwide since 1958, the award-winning Achebe lived through the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70, when Biafra attempted to secede and found its borders blockaded. The result was mass starvation. Achebe, who served the nascent state as roving ambassador, recalls the horror he saw. More than memoir or history, this book is an argument that literature must bear witness.
Table of Contents
Introductionp. 1
Pioneers of a New Frontierp. 7
The Magical Yearsp. 8
Primary Exposurep. 15
Leaving Homep. 17
The Formative Years at Umuahia and Ibadanp. 19
The Umuahia Experiencep. 21
The Ibadan Experiencep. 28
Meeting Christie and Her Familyp. 30
Discovering Things Fall Apartp. 33
A Lucky Generationp. 39
The March to Independencep. 40
The Cradle of Nigerian Nationalismp. 43
Post-Independence Nigeriap. 48
The Declinep. 51
The Role of the Writer in Africap. 52
1966 (poem)p. 62
January 15, 1966, Coupp. 63
The Dark Daysp. 65
Benin Road (poem)p. 73
A History of Ethnic Tension and Resentmentp. 74
The Armyp. 78
Countercoup and Assassinationp. 80
The Pogromsp. 82
Penalty of Godhead (poem)p. 84
The Aburi Accordp. 85
Generation Gap (poem)p. 90
The Nightmare Beginsp. 91
The Nigeria-Biafra Warp. 95
The Biafran Positionp. 95
The Nigerian Argumentp. 96
The Role of the Organization of African Unityp. 96
The Triangle Game: The UK, France, and the United Statesp. 99
The Writers and Intellectualsp. 105
The War and the Nigerian Intellectualp. 108
The Life and Work of Christopher Okigbop. 114
The Major Nigerian Actors in the Conflict: Ojukwu and Gowonp. 118
The Aristocratp. 118
The Gentleman Generalp. 120
The First Shot (poem)p. 127
The Biafran Invasion of the Mid-Westp. 128
Gowon Regroupsp. 132
The Asaba Massacrep. 133
Biafran Repercussionsp. 135
Blood, Blood, Everywherep. 136
The Calabar Massacrep. 137
Biafra, 1969 (poem)p. 141
The Republic of Biafrap. 143
The Intellectual Foundation of a New Nationp. 143
The Biafran Statep. 149
The Biafran Flagp. 151
The Biafran National Anthemp. 151
The Militaryp. 153
Ogbunigwep. 156
Biafran Tanksp. 157
A Tiger Joins the Armyp. 158
Freedom Fightersp. 159
Traveling on Behalf of Biafrap. 160
Refugee Mother and Child (A Mother in a Refugee Camp) (poem)p. 168
Life in Biafrap. 169
The Abagana Ambushp. 173
Air Raid (poem)p. 175
The Citadel Pressp. 176
The Ifeajuna Manuscriptp. 178
Staying Alivep. 179
Death of the Poet: "Daddy, Don't Let Him Die!"p. 183
Mango Seedling (poem)p. 186
Refugeesp. 188
We Laughed at Him (poem)p. 196
The Media Warp. 199
Narrow Escapesp. 200
Vultures (poem)p. 204
The Fight to the Finishp. 209
The Economic Blockade and Starvationp. 209
The Silence of the United Nationsp. 211
Azikiwe Withdraws Support for Biafrap. 215
The Recapture of Owerrip. 217
Biafra Takes an Oil Rig: "The Kwale Incident"p. 218
1970 and The Fallp. 222
The Question of Genocidep. 228
The Argumentsp. 229
The Case Against the Nigerian Governmentp. 233
Gowon Respondsp. 236
Nigeria's Painful Transitions: A Reappraisalp. 243
Corruption and Indisciplinep. 249
State Failure and the Rise of Terrorismp. 250
State Resuscitation and Recoveryp. 251
After a War (poem)p. 254
Postscript: The Example of Nelson Mandelap. 257
Appendix: Brigadier Banjo's Broadcast to Mid-Westp. 259
Notesp. 267
Indexp. 321
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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