cover image There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra

There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra

Chinua Achebe. The Penguin Press, $27.95 (255p) ISBN 978-1-59420-482-1

Achebe's reminiscences of Biafra, a country whichthat spent the entirety of its brief existence, from 1967 to 1970, in civil war with Nigeria, result in an uneasy mix of history and memoir. After an insightful, masterful account of his education, his attention wavers between the individual and the international without settling on a steady tone. Readers will find his legendary gift with imagery in several poems, as well as in details such as Biafran citizens being warned against wearing the colorful clothing most visible to Nigerian bombers, a brilliantly selected example of war's reach into the previously mundane. But the narrative as a whole never coalesces, and after Biafra declares independence it keeps swinging abruptly between the trivial and the heart-stopping: Achebe never unpacks; he tries to stay alive; his wife employs men to redecorate. Nagging questions remain at the end about his stance towards the conflict, during which he served as cultural ambassador for Biafra, while a closing call for "patriotic consciousness" to overcome Nigeria's current problems fails to convince. Only in a concluding poem does Achebe put his finger on the main theme of this stubbornly loyal celebration of unfulfilled possibility: "haunted revelry." Agent: Andrew Wylie, The Wylie Agency. (Oct.)