Chinua Achebe was interviewed by K. Anthony Appiah at 92Y last night. Things Fall Apart, the only Achebe novel I read, is about the coming of the Christian missionaries into Igboland, Nigeria. I read it after reading Ngugi wa Thiongo's The River Between as a teenager, and loving it. The occasion for the 92Y reading was the publication of The Education of a British-Protected Child, a collection of personal essays.
While Achebe's father converted to Christianity, his father's uncle resisted the missionaries' message. Achebe said last night he himself wants to hold to a "middle way," to see the good and the bad about the brief period of colonialism Nigeria underwent. He said that such a perspective is traditional Igbo. One of the good things was his own schooling at the government college set up by the missionaries. He described his amazement at the number of books in the library. It was a paradise for a story-loving boy.
The father of modern Nigerian literature in English sat throughout the interview in his wheelchair. He spoke slowly, even haltingly at times, an idea searching for a word. He was completely unpretentious. Appiah, opposite him, was the dapper cosmopolitan, with the practiced manners of a Harvard don and circuit speaker. Achebe, in contrast, appeared old and simple and grand.