There Was A Country: Chinua Achebe’s Personal History of Biafra

FINALLY! I have finished reading this book. This book is not the kind of book a lot of people can read in 2 or 3 days and I am one of those people. There is so much information to process. Reading this book once does not do it any justice. I’ll have to read it again but that will be some other time. He is such a great author and when I get the chance, I will order all of the Chinua Achebe books possible. I am hoping to read the remaining books of his trilogy and The Trouble With Nigeria. The next war with a book I have to conquer will be Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. 

Chinua Achebe’s funeral was last week. May his soul rest in peace. Here is a link to the pictures from his funeral on the BBC:

I am grateful that before he died, he was able to write about the civil war. I have been going to Nigeria on holiday since I was 11 and went to secondary school there but I was first made aware of Biafra when I read Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie. The funny thing is that I came across Half of a Yellow Sun by chance. It was displayed in my local Waterstones bookstore. This is an important part of Nigerian history that should be taught to the younger generations but from the opinions and comments that I have read on the internet, there are people that would rather it be swept under the rug. I’m not surprised that people don’t want to talk about it. There is already enough ethnic tension in Nigeria. This occurs mainly between Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa people. This ethnic tension is really unfortunate and is one of the main reasons why Nigeria is the way it is today. Like I have mentioned a million times before 😉 , I am Igbo and while reading this I did feel sadness for the people who lost their lives and had to move about constantly to flee from the Nigerian army’s attacks. I felt it the most for the children who starved to death. It was the children that suffered the most. However, this book did not incite in me any anger towards other tribes.

An issue some Nigerians have with this book is the fear that Professor Achebe is inciting ethnic tension. People need to recognise that ethnic tension preceded the publishing of this book and will continue after unless something is done about it. We do not need to agree on everything he has put in his book, however, it does not mean that he should be insulted. This book should promote rational discussions contrary to the insults I have read online directed at him and between people arguing. I have read people saying that they have lost respect for him and he should focus on trying to make Nigeria better. He has spoken up countless times about the state of Nigeria. At the end of the book, he writes about what needs to change in Nigeria and what she needs to progress.

Well, I think he is brave for publishing this and I thank him for doing so. It is a shame that he is no longer here. I wish my grandfather was still alive and I could ask him for his personal history of Biafra. My dad was a child when the civil war was going on. He did tell me that he lost a family member who fought in the war and he was one of those children who had kwashiorkor. Hopefully, when I am in Nigeria, I will be able to find out my extended family’s accounts on what happened.

I enjoyed reading this book. I am intrigued by Nigerian history and have researched online. I am yet to buy a history book but I definitely will. I have come across opinions and comments stating that Nigeria needs to learn from its past in order to be able to move forward and I agree. Nigeria is rich with history and I wish that I had been taught some of it in secondary school. The thing is, I don’t think I would have appreciated it like  I am able to do now. This is a book that I will definitely keep for my children to read. It is battered now from the reading so I may be required to buy another one. 🙂

My next post, which hopefully will be up today, will be a review of his book. It may end up having parts as I don’t want the post to be too long.

Before I go, I will leave you with a tip to reading this book. You will need to come armed with a dictionary. As well as a piece of Nigerian history, the great author also added to my vocabulary. 🙂

Thank you for reading.



18 thoughts on “There Was A Country: Chinua Achebe’s Personal History of Biafra

    • You’re welcome. 🙂 It was really good. Geographically, Biafra was located within Nigeria in the south but officially, the people, mainly Igbo, wanted it to be treated as a new country. If they had succeeded, it would have been governed separately from Nigeria.

  1. I’ve read it and I remember enjoying immensely his accounts of his early life and school in post colonial Nigeria. It was poignant and revealing. If you love all things Nigerian history, join The Nigerian Nostalgia Project on Facebook,it’s a treasure trove.

  2. Looking forward to your reviews… It is true that we may not all agree with the book, but we can learn something from it. I’m reading Things Fall Apart, again, I hope to read There Was A Country, asap.

  3. Great post! I got the book as a gift for a friend, but didn’t buy one for myself so I’ll also be looking forward to your reviews!
    Our country is so diverse, and conflicts are inevitable, but Its not a reason to be continously angry and not find ways to move forward. I really would like us to find a way to do that. Knowing the mistakes of the past – by reading books such as these – is a way forward.

    • Thank you. Glad to know you’ll be reading my review when I post it, 🙂 I agree with you. We do need to find a way forward and books like this will help.

  4. Pingback: Happy Democracy Day!!!!!! | NaijaBrit- Thinking out loud...

  5. Yes! There Was a Country is a great book. I read it a couple of months back and could not agree more about it’s usefulness for teaching younger generations an important part of Nigeria’s history.

    What many of his critics do not realize is that the book has a lot of value to add, chief among which is the negative results of tribalism. Many people died unnecessarily because we could not see eye to eye. Igbos were killed in massive pogroms and the government all but encouraged it. the same kind of thinking that I described in a blog post titled Cleaning out my Closet.

    That book serves as a call for every Nigerian to give up tribal behaviour in favor of rational thinking. If Nigeria will progress, we must become nationalists, not tribalists…

  6. My dad has a copy of the book and though reading was like a treasured nest to me when I was younger (I need to return to my first love. lol), I avoided that book. It’s very hard for me because my parents grew up in that era. My dad lost two family members including his older brother who was fifteen when he decided to join the biafran army. He was a tad too brave and stubborn. lol. I wonder what it would have been like to have my uncle alive today with the family he could have had. My mom’s side was not even slightly better. Her mother met a painful death when she started bleeding from pregnancy complications and there were no doctors or functioning hospitals in sight. My grandma died so young with her unborn child. Believe me when I say that was the beginning of a hellish childhood for my mum. I cry as I type this. That is why I have avoided Professor Achebe’s book all these years. I am one of those people who have tried to sweep unpleasant history under the carpet because of fear of hurt. But as I study present day Nigeria, I find that pretence is only a temporary solution. I stand firmly by the idea of one Nigeria, but if we overlook the pains and offences of yesterday, we may not recognise when we start toeing the same path. I will try to read the book. I should be fine. lol

    • Hi. I’m just replying now because I wanted to respond properly. I’m sorry for the loss in your family. The war was a battle of egos and unfortunately many people, on both sides, suffered great loss. Even those who weren’t on either side suffered loss.

      I understand you not wanting to read the book. I hate looking at things that remind me of or signify terrible things that have happened in the past. In some cases, I have been able to rip the band aid off and others, I still haven’t come to terms with.

      Relatives on both sides of my family died as a result of the war. I do wish I had asked my grandad before he died what the period was like. I have thought to myself that maybe it would have been too painful for him to recount it. When I was reading ‘There was a country’ and I spoke to my aunt about it, I could see the pain was still there. I guess that’s part of the reason why some feel it better not to go over the civil war.

      I feel that Nigeria may not get better if past issues such as the civil war are not addressed, however, the scars may be too deep to recover from. It’s easy for me to say Nigeria should go over the past but those who have lost a lot more than I have won’t find it so easy.

      Even if you read the book in ten years time, it won’t matter. We all have different processes of dealing with major events in our lives. Saying that you will try to read the book is courageous.

      • Thank you. I agree with you that it will never be easy to go over that type of past. People are almost automatically defensive and it can easily turn to a blame game. I guess sometimes all we want is for someone to say sorry… sorry for what happened and how it happened. I read your repost of legal hermit’s rape article and I feel it can be related to even this subject (yes I make the most peculiar connections lol but seriously) I feel like even if Biafra did have some contributory part (insert the girl who dresses enticingly), it still shouldn’t be a justification for rape. And what an awful rape it was. But I am hoping that today as Nigerians, we can understand this. Respect. Tolerance. Even as they are people who are today calling for Biafra…it doesn’t have to result in a rape. It doesn’t have to be bloody. We don’t have to hate each other…. And it would help if someone would take some amount of responsibility. ‘Sorry for what happened’ because what has happened has happened but an apology is so powerful in speeding up healing. The older generation of Nigerian tribes should not continue to encourage the friction.

      • This is a great comment.

        I agree. We, as a people, should apologise more. The problem is, some of us refuse to take responsibility. Our leaders can’t even take responsibility for things they have done and are clearly wrong. There is also the issue of whether or not the apology given is sincere. An apology seems simple but it can also be the hardest thing.

        Truthfully, the connection you made between the articles is a good one. I have briefly read up on Biafra and the issue of rape never came up. It’s a topic I will look into. Thank you.

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