|When my husband first saw me reading this book he said, “Hope and Impediments? What’s that, a Jane Austen novel?” Not even close, but the title was close enough to Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility to make me laugh.
After previously enjoying some of Chinua Achebe’s fiction, I decided to try his essays. I’d heard that his essay on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was controversial, and I was intrigued. I found his essays to be very accessible. His tone is often passionate, yet tempered with dry witty humor as well. He openly addresses issues of race and colonialism, but his attitude is not that of a victim. His fiery writing is often an address to his fellow Nigerians to reclaim their dignity and independent spirit.
The two most interesting essays to me in this collection were “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness” and “Colonialist Criticism.” As an example of his style, I’ll quote a favorite portion from the latter. In the context of European criticism of the African novel, he says,
“[D]id not the black people in America, deprived of their own instruments, take the trumpet and the trombone and blow them as they had never been blown before, as indeed they were not designed to be blown? And the result, was it not jazz? Is anyone going to say that this was a loss to the world or that those first Negro slaves who began to play around with discarded instruments of their masters should have played waltzes and foxtrots? No! Let every people bring their gifts to the great festival of the world’s cultural harvest and mankind will be all the richer for the variety and distinctiveness of the offerings.”
If you’re not familiar at all with Nigerian history or literature, you might enjoy dipping your toes in before trying this collection of essays. A good start might be Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (the pre-colonial era), Onitsha by JMG Le Clézio (colonial period), and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (post-colonial/Biafran War).