In Memoriam: Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe, 1930 – 2013. Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart has sold more than 10 million copies in 50 languages. (Photo Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/Newscom)

Last Thursday, Chinua Achebe, a trenchant social critic of colonialism and the author of Things Fall Apart, died in Boston at the age of 82. The title of Achebe’s masterpiece is an allusion to William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming:”things fall apart; the Centre cannot hold”. The title also symbolizes the unraveling of modernity – the collapse of grand secular visions of peace, prosperity, and parity among all nations.

Achebe’s works have had an indelible impact on post-colonialist thought and the African literary imagination.  Moreover, the Nigerian author’s debut novel has become a canonical presence in world literature. In addition to his magnum opus, Achebe wrote essays, novels, memoirs, and poems. In the New York Times obituary, Johnathan Kandall recounts Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer’s apt description of Achebe: “a novelist who makes you laugh and then catch your breath in horror — a writer who has no illusions but is not disillusioned.”

Whether we account for his imaginative corpus in terms of God’s common grace or an unintentional effort that nonetheless bears witness to the majestic creativity of God, two things seem clear: Achebe’s compendium of writings deserve the global audience the have reached and will continue to positively impact readers for generations to come.

Despite the transcendence-free promises of our post-Enlightenment age, Achebe’s life and legacy can remind Christians that the “center cannot hold”, that things ultimately fall apart for colonial paradigms and social conditions that are not consonant with the Beloved Community of justice inaugurated by Christ.