‘This is our story’
The fifth of six children, Albert Chinualumogu Achebe was born Nov. 16, 1930, in Ogidi, an Igbo village. The country was then under British colonial rule, and his father became one of the village’s earliest converts to Christianity, although much of his extended family remained steeped in Igbo traditions and stories.
Mr. Achebe would later describe the tension between the Christians and those Igbo who did not adopt the religion.
“We were called in our language ‘the people of the church,’ ” Mr. Achebe once wrote, “and we called the others — with the conceit appropriate to followers of a higher religion — ‘the people of nothing.’ ”
He attended University College at Ibadan, then worked for the Nigerian Broadcasting Co. in Lagos. In his schooling and free time, he devoured books from the Western literary tradition: Shakespeare, Tennyson, Dickens and Conrad, among others. He adored Yeats, whom he described as a “wild Irishman” whose poetry had a kind of magic that he said reminded him of fantastical Igbo stories.
He gradually came to feel a strong disillusionment with the Western canon for its portrayal of Africans. The turning point was reading “Mister Johnson,” a novel by the Anglo-Irish writer Joyce Cary that depicted “an embarrassing nitwit” of a Nigerian protagonist. The book won great praise among Western critics.
“This book was not talking about a vague place called Africa but about southern Nigeria,” he told the Guardian in 2000. “I said, ‘Wait, that means here; this is our story.’ It brought the whole thing home to me. This story is not true, so is it possible the others are not either? It opened up a new way of looking at literature.”
His revenge was “Things Fall Apart,” whose lead character Okonkwo was as sensitive and brave as Cary’s “Mister Johnson” had been a buffoon. By that time, Mr. Achebe had dropped his Christian name, Albert, which he called a “tribute to Victorian England.”
In 1961 he married the former Christiana Chinwe Okoli. They had four children, one of whom Chinelo, became a writer. Complete information on survivors could not be learned.
Mr. Achebe’s “No Longer at Ease” (1960) was a sequel to “Things Fall Apart,” and his subsequent books included “Arrow of God” (1964), in which a Nigerian priest wedded to his traditional beliefs sets in motion a tragic collision with British authorities.