Chinua Achebe died about two years ago. Shortly after, I read Anthills Of the Savannah, the first book by Achebe I had read. I wanted to read Things Fall Apart, his most famous book, but Common Good Books, my favorite book store, ran out of it the day after his death. Instead, I bought and read Anthills, a fine book. I wish I had read Achebe earlier. Here are some favorite lines from the book:
Contradictions if well understood and managed can spark off the fire of invention.
Orthodoxy whether of the right or of the left is the graveyard of creativity.
Those who would see no blot of villainy in the beloved oppressed nor grant the faintest glimmer of humanity to the hated oppressor are partisans, patriots, and party-liners.
. . . we may accept a limitation on our actions but never, under no circumstances, must we accept restrictions on our thinking.
Anthills leads a person to think about the basic nature of humanity and society, about struggle and repression, about action and ideas, about one’s role in the world. It is a book with splendid writing. I usually think that a well-written book is one in which the writing itself – as opposed to the plot, the ideas, the characterizations – should be invisible. If that is not the case, then the reader should be struck by the beauty of the writing as I was with Achebe’s.
Anthills has an absorbing plot and characters to admire. Shortly after reading Anthills, I heard on the radio – probably public radio – the idea that good literature leads to the development or nurturing of empathy. I agree. I also feel that it presents the reader with role models. It has done that for me my entire life. If asked to list role models one of the first that springs to mind is Mr. Pickwick, not to mention Sam Weller. Another is Richard Swiveler from The Old Curiosity Shop. Many other good role models appear in Dickens, even Barkis. Gus from Lonesome Dove. Frodo and Bilbo. Tom and Huck. From Anthills, Chris, Ikem, Beatrice, and others are characters to admire and emulate.