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There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra [Paperback]

Chinua Achebe
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 April 2013
The defining experience of Chinua Achebe's life was the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War. For more than forty years Achebe was silent on those terrible years, until he produced this towering reckoning with one of modern Africa's most fateful events. A marriage of history, remembrance, poetry and vivid first-hand observation, There Was a Country is a work of wisdom and compassion from one of the great voices of our age.

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There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra + An Image of Africa/ The Trouble with Nigeria (Penguin Great Ideas) + The African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart No Longer at Ease Arrow of God (Everyman Library)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (25 April 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0241959209
  • ISBN-13: 978-0241959206
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 28,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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It has the tense narrative grip of the best fiction. It is also a revelatory entry into the intimate character of the writer's brilliant mind and bold spirit. Achebe has created here a new genre of literature (Nadine Gordimer)

Engrossing ... an elegy from a master storyteller who has witnessed the undulating fortunes of a nation ... his strongest expressions are his poems, scattered between chapters, offering affecting interludes (Noo Saro-Wiwa Guardian)

Matchless ... what a man; what a life (Giles Foden Daily Telegraph)

Part-history, part-memoir, [Achebe's] moving account of the war is laced with anger, but there is also an abiding tone of regret for what Nigeria might have been without conflict and mismanagement (Sunday Times)

A blend of historical overview, personal memoir and political manifesto ... fascinating (Evening Standard)

About the Author

Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He published novels, short stories, essays, and children's books. His volume of poetry, Christmas in Biafra, was the joint winner of the first Commonwealth Poetry Prize. Of his novels, Arrow of God won the New Statesman-Jock Campbell Award, and Anthills of the Savannah was a finalist for the 1987 Booker Prize. Things Fall Apart, Achebe's masterpiece, has been published in fifty different languages and has sold more than ten million copies. Achebe lectured widely, receiving many honors from around the world. He was the recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award, Nigeria's highest award for intellectual achievement. In 2007, he won the Man Booker International Prize. He died in 2013.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WHEN IS A HOLOCAUST NOT A HOLOCAUST? 20 Nov 2012
The word `genocide' is used several times in this book. Alas, it had to be used often in the 20th century for programmes of extermination inflicted on various classes of people, whether the classification was defined ethnically (the usual reason) or in some other way, as in, say, Cambodia. A word that is never used at all is `holocaust', which is by general consensus reserved for one particular policy of this type, one that was implemented right in the heart of soi-disant civilised Europe. A word can be powerful. We are always being reminded of the need for vigilance to prevent any second holocaust, and indeed none has happened nor (hopefully) looks likely. Genocides have been another matter entirely. They have been occurring regularly over the past few decades, and they are not obviously less horrible than the officially-designated holocaust. It could be that at the very least our perspective on recent history will be improved if we apply this effective term where it can be applied with equal propriety. Perhaps we might even succeed in preventing such events from happening as often as they have been.

I remember the Biafra war very well. One particular Nigerian tribe, the Igbo or as we used to call them Ibo, attempted secession from its parent nation because of perceived racial persecution, setting up an independent state in eastern Nigeria to which the secessionist leader General Ojukwu gave the name Biafra. The truth about secessions and revolutions seems to me very simple - if they fail they are treason, if they succeed they are glorious revolution. It would not have been otherwise in Russia, or indeed in America. Biafra failed, and the manner of its defeat was by common consent an exercise in atrocity.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There was a country 26 Oct 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was a young girl during the war and I was on the Nigerian side so my knowledge was limited to the propaganda we were fed. This book was enlightening, to put it mildly, and it should be essential reading for all youths and elders in Nigeria as it reminds us why WAR is never a good thing but why the country should not condone mediocrity and corruption as these were the original reasons for the 'seccesionist plot' . Achebe might be accused of a subjective account but I found it enthralling and honest. His account is split into three neat parts starting with Achebe's autobiography, a background to the war and the aftermath.Interspersed within the account of war are lines of poetry that evoke powerful imagery. I daresay many will be appalled at some of the stuff that happened but it is also a testament to the resilience of the Igbos that they have somehow managed to forgive the atrocities they encountered and to rebuild and forge ahead. My only reservation was there are no pictures but you can't have everything. I hope someone makes a film of the book one day but for now I urge you to buy this book, read it and recommend it to as many of your friends as you can. I am a Yoruba married to an Igbo and I can honestly say, this book really opened my eyes to the deep seated 'collective amnesia' of a nation.It should be an essential text for any students of war history and negotiation studies and most certainly an essential text in Nigeria.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brave, profoundly important document 12 Nov 2012
By Maureen
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A profoundly important document from one of the world's greatest writers. Here, Professor Achebe is addressing his readership not solely as a novelist, critic, children's author and poet, but as a statesman.

The book is broken into four parts - something the writer Obi Nwakanma has cleverly observed also corresponds to the four market days in the Igbo week and a may have provided the super structure for Achebe's literary world view. Nnena Orji also has admirably observed that "It seems...that the insertion of poems in the story is also a throw-back to Igbo traditional narrative styles that emanated from the oral tradition where the story itself was interspersed with chanting, singing and poetry. It occurred to me that Professor Achebe was making a concerted effort to embrace this "authentic African narrative structure" and was not, as some other shallow readings have suggested, just experimenting or taking artistic license.

In the western literary tradition, narrative structure followed very strict rules. I think it was G.F.W. Hegel in the 19th century that referred to poetry as "the universal art of the mind [that] runs through all the arts and is art's highest phase, one phase higher than music?"[1] Poetry was treated as an art form apart and was hardly `married with prose."

Part one of the book deals with Professor Achebe's family and coming of age. Tender descriptions of his mother and father and their interactions with English clergy are particularly touching. His own education and encounter with some of founders of modern African literature are also found here with luminous beauty.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Insight into the Recent Past 29 Jan 2013
By Mr. Stephen Redman VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
One of my earliest memories as a child is the Biafran war and the horrendous pictures of starving children that it brought to our TV screens. This was before Live Aid and the Ethiopian tragedy, and as a child I would worry about the possibility of famine in the UK. This wasn't helped by my mother telling me that in case of famine they would eat the youngest first (I was the youngest!)

Seeing this book on the Biafran war brought all these memories back to me and spurred me on to read its pages.

The author is clearly an accomplished writer who has a style and a delivery that is simply excellent. The pages are all embracing, in that the reader is drawn in and has to continue listening to the voice of Chinua Achebe.

Whereas not seeming to personally espouse the Christian faith, the author indicates the Christian context in which he grew up and praises it for the huge impact it had on him, both educationally and ethically.

With great care the author describes the cultural backdrop to the conflict that happened in 1967-70. He also paints an interesting involvement of the UK, France and the USA from his African perspective.

Ending with a dramatic poem, this piece of prose is an excellent read and I recommend it to anyone who would like to gain an insight into this aspect of history through the personal memoires of a respected individual.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Delivered as expected.
Published 15 hours ago by Ignatius Onumaegbu
5.0 out of 5 stars Hey Michael Gove, here's an author who should be on your reading lists
This is a heartbreaking and amazing read that - it seems to me - should be the kind of thing that is read by British kids to understand more about the history and legacy of... Read more
Published 25 days ago by Petrolhead
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sad Account of the Birth and Death of a Nation
I'm only a recent discoverer of the work of Chinua Achebe, having worked my way through "The African Trilogy" of "Things Fall Apart", "No Longer At Ease",... Read more
Published 29 days ago by Caleb Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars A WAR FOGOTTEN BY MANY
This was an excellent book about a war that has almost been forgotten about, but has had severe implications for the country of Nigeria right up to the present day . Read more
Published 1 month ago by bibliophile
5.0 out of 5 stars What a man, What a story!
Having finally had the opportunity of reading this book, I must say that Chinua Achebe, as he often did, found way of capturing the imagination of readers. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Emmanuel Onwuemelie
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book ever written on Biafra
The best book ever written on the subject from a first class account by Chinua Achebe. I hope Ojukwu wrote a memoir before he passed away?
Published 1 month ago by T. E. Ezeoke
4.0 out of 5 stars Historic insight
This has helped me understand what went on during Nigeria's bloody civil war. Truth be told I loved reading every word
Published 2 months ago by Femi Adeyemi-Ejeye
5.0 out of 5 stars An escape from the Anglo-American bubble.
One of the sad truths about reading in Britain is our narrow focus on British and American writers. Where the rest of the world is used to literature (and cinema) in translation,... Read more
Published 2 months ago by El Loro
5.0 out of 5 stars A personal history of a dark time
I remember the images of the horror that swept so many innocents to their deaths. This story is told by a great writer with the depth of emotion that moved me to tears, I remember... Read more
Published 2 months ago by B. Bello
5.0 out of 5 stars A well written personal history
This book, There was a Country is a well written personal account of the Biafran War of 1967-1970. I can remember growing up in the UK and hearing about this Nigerian civil war. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Birmingham Book Reader
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