Anthills of the Savannah
This splendid short novel demonstrates Achebe's continuing ability to depict the challenges posed to African societies by modernism and Western influence. It details the plight of three educated, upper-class Africans attempting to survive in an atmosphere of political oppression and cultural confusion. Set in the fictional African country of Kangan, it is clearly patterned after Achebe's native Nigeria, though one can also see elements of Liberia and Ghana. This was the first Achebe novel I had read since his classic Things Fall Apart. At first, I thought that Anthills suffered in comparison with that masterpiece, arguably the best known and most influential African novel. After finishing the book, though, I realized that Achebe had very deftly returned to and updated the themes raised in that book. His protagonists are Ikem, a courageous and opinionated newspaper editor; Chris, his friend and predecessor as editor, now the somewhat-reluctant Commissioner of Information in a military-led government; and Beatrice, a brilliant, beautiful mid-level civil servant, also Chris's lover. Each studied abroad and is comfortable tossing off literary references and cultural cues from the West. At the same time, each is proud of and clearly shaped by his/her African heritage. Kangan is ruled by a smart but narrow-minded military officer who rose to power following a coup. "His Excellency" is also coincidentally and not at all implausibly an acquaintance of all three main characters, bringing a very personal dynamic to the struggles they face as Ikem sharpens his already bitter criticism of the government, to the professional discomfort of Chris and the personal alarm of Beatrice. I found the first half of the book a little hard to get through at times. The prose is often overwrought and the narrator changes from chapter to chapter, making it difficult to follow. Further complicating things is the frequent use of West African dialect, especially in...
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