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Customer Review

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There Was a War, 20 Dec. 2012
This review is from: There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra (Hardcover)
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This book is a mixture of memoir and history of the Biafran War of 1967-1970, hence Achebe's description of it as a "personal history", an account of events from the perspective of himself and his family.

Nigeria had gained its independence from Britain in 1960 - the new country had a number of different peoples, speaking many different languages, who had different histories of relating to British rule and thus to the new state and its government. The foundation of the breakaway Biafran Republic in the south east was announced in May 1967, after some quite brutal conflicts in the north of the country, and a very bitter civil war followed, ending in defeat for Biafra.

Achebe attempts to explain the origins of the conflict in post colonial Nigeria, in an attempted coup in Northern Nigeria and the response to it, etc. He also describes some of the experiences of himself, his wife and their young children in war torn Biafra (the third was born just after the declaration of the Biafran Republic). He also includes a number of his poems about the conflict.

I was eager to read this book as I loved Achebe's previous book The Education of a British-Protected Child (Penguin Modern Classics), a collection of essays including several autobiographical ones. I didn't find this quite as accessible or engaging. The juxtaposition of sections of history and memoir seemed a bit disjointed, and the rather dry historical narrative with lots of names of military leaders felt as if it was pulling me away from the story of the book.

I did appreciate the inclusion of some of his poetry in the book, and was interested in the way he tried to tell the story, I just didn't find it completely successful.

On a more positive note, the book is a nicely presented hardback with an elegant and sombre dust jacket and a very comprehensive index. Some of the endnote citations from the book seem a bit eccentric and of doubtful reliability - lots of conversations with named and unnamed individuals which cannot be followed up as they may not be published, and even "author's recollections" - I think it would be sufficient to make it clear in the main text that something is from conversation or memory and use endnotes just for published external sources.

I intend to refer back to this if I read other books about Nigeria and Biafra, and think it would be useful alongside other books as an introduction to Nigerian and/or recent African history. If it was possible, I would probably rate this 3.5 stars.
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