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There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,944 ratings  ·  274 reviews
From the legendary author of Things Fall Apart comes a longawaited memoir about coming of age with a fragile new nation, then watching it torn asunder in a tragic civil war

The defining experience of Chinua Achebe’s life was the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran War, of 1967–1970. The conflict was infamous for its savage impact on the Biafran people, Chinua Ache
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 11th 2012 by Penguin Press (first published September 27th 2012)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Africa, African history and Negritude mvt in the 60s
When I first read Chinua Achebe at age 11 (Things Fall Apart), he was one of the few African writers I'd read growing up. As an African I often wondered why there weren't too many books about Africa written by Africans. Things are changing now but when I was growing up that wasn't the case.As such, Achebe holds a special place in my heart.

I was really excited to read this autobiography and I wasn't disappointed. In the first part, Achebe talked about his childhood, pre-Independence Nigeria, and
Aug 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I wonder if we will ever be able to read Chinua Achebe without feeling the pain of his current relevance and impact?

This is an incredibly touching and personal account of a traumatising civil war in Nigeria/Biafra in the 1960s. I admire Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" and its sequels, and this narrative is a good complement to his thought-provoking fiction. It offers an overview of the political situation that led to the Biafran War, tells the story of his own family's perspective and his ef
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
There was a country; it was called Biafra. This country existed for three years, until 1970 when it "fell," claiming more than three million lives. Forced to flee a section of Nigeria, Chinua Achebe was a citizen, pioneer, even one of the writers of the constitution for that country. This is his experience as a Biafran. So with such a traumatic personal experience, why would this book be published to controversy? The tone could have had something to do with it.

Achebe rearranged literature for m
Dec 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
definitely not objective. but that's not what the purpose of this book was. i wouldn't have read it if it were just objective. i wanted to read his take on things and he gave it. that's all i'll say because i'm not in the mood to start a fire storm. the ghost of biafra haunts every nigerian. people still can't talk about it all in a calm fashion. i am igbo and i have a biafran pound framed on my bookcase (my family was VERY affected by the biafran war) and the argument it caused when my yoruba f ...more
Adebayo Oyagbola
Nov 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
Extremely jaundiced review of the causes and events that led up to the Nigerian civil war. Chinua Achebe's main theme is that the thinking and actions of the different Nigerian governments were based on the quest for tribal supremacy for the dominant tribes. Unfortunately, he falls prey to this himself. He appears to have bought into the self serving fiction that all the wrongs that led to the attempted secession in 1967-70 were predicated and wrought purely by the rest of Nigeria. He would have ...more
Kaykay Obi
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Writing my final year thesis on The Nigerian Civil War Literature, focusing on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty exposed me to some elements of the Biafran war I did not know. My father and my grandmother always told me stories about the conflict, which saw over 2,000,000 people dead. However, I was not fortunate to hear my grandfather’s side of the story – he was long dead before I was born.

Now Achebe is back with an extremely important document
Nnena Orji
Oct 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A profoundly important document from one of the world’s greatest writers. Here, Professor Achebe is addressing his readership not solely as a novelist, critic, children’s author and poet, but as a statesman.

The book is broken into four parts – something the writer Obi Nwakanma has cleverly observed also corresponds to the four market days in the Igbo week and may have provided the super structure for Achebe world view. It seems to me that the insertion of poems in the story is also a throw-back
Osita Ebiem
Jan 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Biafran - Nigeria war ended forty three years ago. The war was fought between 1967 and 1970. The ethnic/religious cleansing or genocide against the Igbo that necessitated the war took place from 1966 to July 1967 when the actual war began. Chinua Achebe in his characteristic sincere and honest narration clearly stated in this long awaited book that it is because there was genocide against the Igbo people then there became a country Biafra. It must have been extremely difficult on Achebe to maint ...more
Steven Langdon
Nov 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Chinua Achebe is one of Africa's greatest novelists, his books superb at capturing the complex transition to independence in the continent and the social changes associated with this shift. Now, at 82, he has written a retrospective non-fiction book about the bitter struggle to build a separate Biafra in eastern Nigeria and his own personal role in that tragic experience.

"There Was a Country" is a good book, well worth reading, deeply felt in its telling, and powerful in its treatment of the gri
Bodosika Bodosika
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book was written by one of the best Authors from Africa and it was about the Nigeria civil war,I read and reread it immediately it was published and it was an interesting read.
Christine (TheOtherChristineThatReads) McMillan
One of the most important, valuable books I’ve ever read.
Chinua Achebe's "personal history of Biafra" was too little of either personal memoir or history to be what the subject, and the poetry interspersed every few chapters, deserved. A struggle with the artistic side of honesty is evident in the way the book is detached, the way the story is told unevenly, in corrections to the record and didactic opinions and recitation of poorly contextualized political and war maneuvers. Horror and emotion break through a few times, but overall I don't think thin ...more
Paul Fulcher
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013

I'm a fan of Chinua Achebe's novels, and Things Fall Apart in particular is a wonderful book.

But I'm not really sure what to take from this book, as it falls into an awkward middle ground:

- the writing style is mostly too plain and factual for it to be taken as a work of literature (with the exception of some poetic interludes)

- the opinions expressed are too one-sided for this to be a useful work of history

- but at the same time, the material, particularly on the war, is too generic for
Adeyinka Makinde
Oct 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The importance of the pen, the brush and the voice of the artist as a social critic and as an interpretive lens to focus on the intricacies as well as the banalities of inter-human conflict may or may not carry less weight than they did in distant and not so distant past.

This of course is a question of perspective; but even in the age of the saturation coverage of wars and insurrections by the apparatus of the mass media, the nuanced touches provided by the evocative poet and the erudite writer
There Was a Country is the autobiography of one of Africa's most renowned writers, Chinua Achebe, and also the history of lost possibilities, his short lived country the break away Republic of Biafra. Biafra seceded from Nigeria in 1967. It was short lived and went through a war with its' parent nation Nigeria until 1970.

Chinua Achebe writes about his family history and the early years of Nigeria following independence from Great Britain, all the hope and vibrancy of those days and finally the
Marcy prager
Oct 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There was a country named Nigeria. For a time its people were a "beautiful cultural mosaic of traditions and dialects." Although Chinua Achebe does not condone colonialism, he can't forget his exemplary high school and secondary school education that was offered to him under British rule. Achebe, along with many other Eastern Igbo people, became Nigeria's intellectuals, for these legendary British schools produced respected and renowned African professors, leaders of finance, health and governme ...more
T P Kennedy
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
I found this disappointing. I had high expectations of anything written by Achebe. Unfortunately, this book falls between two stools. There are some very interesting passages where he describes his and his family's experiences during the Biafran War. There's not enough of these. The rest of the book is a description of the war from the Igbo perspective. It's an odd marriage of politics and biography and a marriage that doesn't really work. "Half of a Yellow Sun" is a more gripping account of thi ...more
iain meek
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
History that I never knew anything about- the Biafran/ Nigerian war from 1966.

A good writer and poet covers the war from the viewpoint of a senior activist from the breakaway Biafran side. Sadly the Biafran Republic was gone by 1970 with millions dead from starvation due to the Nigerian policy of blockading the coast and preventing supplies. According to the writer, the British government policy was to back the Nigerian aim of preventing the breakaway.

Very sad.
Dash Williams
It left me wanting more.
Mar 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Great recap of life in Nigeria in the '60s.

Igbo proverb tells us that a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where he dried his body.

Great Britain was handed the area of West Africa that would later become Nigeria, like a piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party. It was one of the most populous regions on the African continent, with over 250 ethnic groups and distinct languages.

Britain's indirect rule was a great success in northern and western Nigeria. Indirect r
Tobi Oshilaja
Mar 25, 2021 rated it really liked it
I was not aware of some of the atrocities committed by both sides of this civil war. I was also unaware of the international response to the Biafran War, Achebe's claim that it was the first properly televised war is striking and it is interesting to see which communities related with the Biafran struggle (Haiti, American Civil Rights leaders etc).

The post colonial struggle for power in Nigeria is a sad and common example of how foreign super powers arm opportunistic, egomaniacal despots in thei
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chinua Achebe eventually breaks his silence on the tragedy that was Biafra War that claimed many lives and left the nation scarred. Achebe was deeply involved in the war effort. He provides a personal touch to the history of this sorry chapter in the history of Nigeria.
I enjoyed the book greatly. It gives an insght on the war and how it unfolded, including its ramifications to this day. Most importantly for me, it is beautifully written.
Tim Roast
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chinua Achebe has been given the accolade "the father of modern African writing" and very few critics can dispute this fact.

I have over the years read numerous works by Achebe the `master story teller' and to date, Things Fall Apart remains my favourite - this novel depicted the life of an `Igbo Man' called Okonkwo. Okonkwo was a tragic leader and a die-hard African traditionalist with a firm conviction in the destiny of his people, yet he was a man who failed to accept the inevitable changes in
April Helms
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
I admit I never heard of Achebe until I came across this book; I think it was one that was sent to the office. Also, save for a short fictional story I had read in Gods and Soldiers, I was unfamiliar with the Biafra and Nigerian war. Achebe relates his own account of his time growing up under British-controlled Nigeria, to the British leaving and, essentially, chaos slowly taking hold. The new government, says Achebe, started to discriminate heavily against the Igbo people, of which Achebe is a ...more
Oct 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I had heard about this war, but I was completely ignorant about what it was about and what took place. I was most disturbed that in none of my history classes growing up, did I learn about this war or that a genocide of 20% of the population occurred. Very disappointing. Most of the time I feel blessed to be an American citizen, but reading this book was not one of those times. It's not that I have the opinion that we should have been heavily involved---but rather, I think a country such as Amer ...more
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There was a country, indeed there were many countries that were born again from the release of the colonial yolk. I say again because for many these places were countries before the invasion of foreign powers. What can be said about a book like this? Three million lives were lost, mostly children, and what has come from the deaths of these innocents? Biafra is a name of a place barely spoken of today. For those familiar with Chinua Achebe whom lived through this we are still reeling from his dea ...more
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Reading this book was reading my parents' history. I feel like I know so much more about them now, and about MY history and culture. The moment I learned about this book, I had no choice but to buy it as soon as possible. I could've easily read about this in a history book or textbook, but to read about it from someone who experienced it was so much fuller, in depth. Maybe I'm biased, but I felt that Achebe still managed to be fair and equally critical to both sides of this conflict, though ther ...more
Aug 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
New Achebe? ON IT.
Jason Smith
Aug 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a very informative and personal account of the Nigeria-Biafra war (Nigerian civil war). It is an event I knew nothing of. The writing may have seemed dry in parts had I not listened to it, the narration was excellently done.

Achebe points out how colonizing whites talked (talk?) of Africa and Africans as if they have no past and no culture, simply because they did not (do not?) recognise the past and culture of Africa.
Great Britain rigged the first election in Nigeria in an eff
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa
The title: "There was a Country" could easily refer to Biafra, or given the state of Nigeria as described by Achebe, could be to Nigeria itself. The tragedy of the 1970's war continues to this day.

This book is part memoir, part history of the Biafran War and part a survey of Nigerian literature. It also has a sampling of the poetry of the author... something rarely found in a war history.

In the memoir part Achebe describes how he and many other Igbos benefited from the educational system put in
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Great African Reads: Achebe: There Was a Country | (CL) first read: Aug 2013 37 53 Aug 28, 2013 04:26PM  

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Chinua Achebe was a novelist, poet, professor at Brown University and critic. He is best known for his first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature.

Raised by Christian parents in the Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religion

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