There Was A Country is essentially a documentary on the times preceding the secession of the Igbo nation, Biafra, from the newly-independent Nigeria, the gory period of the civil war, and the aftermath of war, both on the Igbos and the nation Nigeria at large.
It’s an account of how this singular occurrence, especially the events leading up to it, alters the course of events in Nigeria, and even to date, in Adichie’s words, Nigeria still totters “like a Big Man with the spindly legs of a child”.
Interspersed with Achebe’s poetry, personal stories of the author’s early life, and a unique perspective of the civil war, There Was A Country is a memoir and history book, replete with notable events, dates and vibrant actors in the rise and fall of the nation, Biafra.
Like honey on the tongue, Achebe’s language and style are smooth, understandable and immersive even to the beginner who is learning to read – Nadine Gordimer explains this by saying his writing “has the tense narrative grip of the best fiction”. It’s almost easy to forget that one is reading a true account of history – after being absorbed by the subtle way he paints mental images of people, places and horrendous tales of “Biafra Babies”.
Interestingly, the book stands as a prophecy of some sorts, with words that eerily remain valid even in dire times as the present when Nigeria – once a great, promising nation – remains plagued with the bone-deep diseases of corruption and tribalism.
In fact, we can say that what Achebe’s generation witnessed is when the embers of ethnic rivalry were being fanned. Presently, it’s almost a full-blown fire and only an extraordinary intervention can extinguish it.
In all, Achebe doesn’t fail to emphasize the role of the writer in Africa – a pressing need for African stories to be told by Africans themselves.