Things Come Together
Editor's note: Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, best known for his novel Things Fall Apart, died a week ago. Here is a piece about him from the March/April 2010 issue of Books & Culture.
In 1929, the British colonial administration of Nigeria opened a secondary boarding school called Government College Umuahia. Led by the Reverend Robert Fisher, Government College Umuahia compiled an excellent library and quickly began to provide an outstanding education for those young African men (not women) whose passports read "British Protected Person." Closed to be used as a prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, the school reopened in 1944 under the direction of Cambridge-educated William Simpson, a mathematics teacher and member of the Colonial Education Service. Simpson held unusual ideas about education. While most colonial (and British homeland) schools relied on rote memorization and cramming, Simpson prohibited the study of textbooks after classes on three days of the week, promoting instead the reading of novels, biographies, and magazines. Simpson-era Umuahia graduates subsequently played a central role in the development of modern African literature; notable alumni include Christopher Okigbo, Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart.
The Education of a British-Protected Child, Achebe's new collection of autobiographical essays, describes how he and his classmates spent many hours reading the same books that would be read by students in Britain: Treasure Island, Tom Brown's School Days, The Prisoner of Zenda, Prester John, and David Copperfield. Achebe reports that he enjoyed the exhilarating plots and animated descriptions of these novels and that he was not disturbed by their frequent depiction of repulsive, inhuman, barbaric natives. Reflecting on his education, he concludes, "it all added up to a wonderful preparation for the day we would be old enough to read between the lines and ask questions." ...