Says John Ezard in the Guardian:
In choosing to give the award to a man who is regularly described as the father of modern African literature, the judges have signalled that this new global Booker has achieved the status of an authentic world award in only its second contest.The Guardian website also has a guide to Achebe's life and work and you can read an extract from Things Fall Apart (which is one of my favourite novels) here.
By honouring Achebe they have redressed what is seen in Africa - and beyond - as the acute injustice that he has never received the Nobel prize, allegedly because he has spent his life struggling to break the grip of western stereotypes of Africa. One of his most famous essays is an onslaught against Joseph Conrad's masterpiece Heart of Darkness, a novel about a European's descent into savagery in Africa.
Acebe himself says in the Times:
It was 50 years ago this year that I began writing my first novel, Things Fall Apart. It is wonderful to hear that my peers have looked at the body of work I have put together in the last 50 years and judged it deserving of this important recognition. I am grateful.It has, of course, been an amazing week for Nigerian authors (and not just Nigerian - Igbo!) with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie winning the Orange Prize a few days earlier. In an interview with Stephen Moss in the Guardian she talks about the need to get right away from stereotyped views of Africa:
You may remember that Doreen Baigana said something very similar some time back.
We have a long history of Africa being seen in ways that are not very complimentary, and in America ... being seen as an African writer comes with baggage that we don't necessarily care for. Americans think African writers will write about the exotic, about wildlife, poverty, maybe Aids. They come to Africa and African books with certain expectations. I was told by a professor at Johns Hopkins University that he didn't believe my first book ... because it was too familiar to him. In other words, I was writing about middle-class Africans who had cars and who weren't starving to death, and therefore to him it wasn't authentically African. ... People forget that Africa is a place in which class exists," she says. "It's as if Africans are not allowed to have class, that somehow authenticity is synonymous with poverty and demands your pity and your sympathy. Africa is seen as the place where the westerner goes to sort out his morality issues. We see it in films and in lots of books about Africa, and it's very troubling to me.
Thank goodness for all those authors, Achebe in the forefront, who have managed to break the mould.