Thursday, March 28, 2013
Kwame Anthony Appiah on Achebe
Achebe, who died Thursday at the age of 82, had absorbed a wide range of literature in English, both poetry and prose: the King James Bible and the English hymnal; realist and modernist novels; Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens, Conrad, Buchan, Greene and, of course, Yeats, who gave him the title of his first book.
And from this treasury he drew a variety of forms of diction: one, for example, to represent the voices of people speaking Igbo; another, for the language in which he described their world. From the traditions of oral literature that he heard growing up, in turn, he drew the proverbs with which the novel is peppered, the tales of gods and heroes and heroines that hover behind his narrative. The result was a way of talking about Africa in the colonial language that allowed his characters to live for us as richly specific human beings, located in a particular time and place, while at the same time resonating with readers across the planet and across generations.