This post was originally written in 2021. This is an updated version.
I read this book over 3 years ago and I still find myself referencing it in a lot of conversations. This is how you know how impactful a book is. The Education of a British-protected child is a collection of 16 essays written by the brilliant late Chinua Achebe and published in 2009. I haven’t read a lot of his books but I guess it’s better late than never right?
Admittedly, as someone who doesn’t typically delve into non-fiction, I approached this book with some hesitation. However, I must emphatically state that it stands out as one of the finest I’ve ever read—quite a shock considering its non-fiction genre. These thought-provoking essays were composed at different intervals, spanning from 1988 to 2009. Some were adapted from speeches delivered at various events.
Achebe articulates his perspectives on a myriad of subjects, ranging from personal reflections on his life and family to broader discussions about Nigeria and the repercussions of colonization. He passionately advocates for the importance of African voices in shaping and controlling the narrative and portrayal of Africa in the global arena.
While there were instances of overlapping anecdotes and illustrations, they were purposefully interwoven to reinforce his arguments, and I found their repetition integral to driving home his points.
One notable essay, “What is Nigeria to me,” touches on his complex relationship with Nigeria, a theme that resurfaces towards the conclusion of the book. This piece resonated deeply with me, striking a personal chord.
In “Traveling White,” Achebe delves into the disheartening reality of racism in Africa, recounting experiences from his travels to what are now known as Zambia and Zimbabwe. He fervently underscores the significance of sharing our own stories to counter prevailing narratives.
The essay “Martin Luther King and Africa” delves into the intricate relationship between Africans and African Americans, exploring the narratives that sometimes breed tension between the two communities.
My favorite part.
What captivated me most in this book was Achebe’s scathing critique of Joseph Conrad. His erudite dismantling of Conrad’s work prompted me to Google the author, eager to put a face to the name. What I found wasn’t surprising, considering the elegance and intellect conveyed in Achebe’s critique. The excerpts he shared from Conrad’s books left me beyond appalled—such audacity, it truly was a profound moment for me.
He referenced several accounts written by white authors who visited Nigeria and Africa, revealing the disconcerting manner in which they portrayed our stories. One statement that particularly struck a chord with me was his insight: “If you are going to enslave or colonize somebody, you are not going to write a glowing report about him either before or after.” It succinctly encapsulates the insidious nature of exploitation and enslavement by those who considered themselves saviors.
Chinua Achebe was unabashedly opinionated, a quality that naturally invites criticism and opposition. Yet, what I admired about him was his graceful and factual approach in addressing these critiques. His ability to respond with both poise and substance stands as a testament to his intellectual integrity. I genuinely want to read his book or “little pamphlet” like he called it titled ‘The trouble with Nigeria’. Scratch that, I want to read all his books!
I highly recommend this book! It’s so insightful and wonderful. Chinua Achebe was a brilliant man and like I said, I’m on a mission to read all his books.