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The Education of a British-Protected Child

This collection of beautifully written autobiographical essays reveals much about the worldview of celebrated Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.

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In 1958, while he was still in his 20s, Chinua Achebe published “Things Fall Apart,” the story of a traditional leader named Okonkwo whose inflexible nature undermines his humanity and his ability to resist the encroachments of British missionaries. “Things Fall Apart” has sold more than 8 million copies. It is the one African novel that everyone has heard of.

Fifty years after “Things Fall Apart” and more than 20 years after “Anthills of the Savannah,” his last novel, it might seem time for Achebe to write his memoirs. But while his fellow Nigerian, the Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, has published five full-length memoirs, Achebe has never chosen to write his own story. He denies in his new book that he is a modest man, but he is surely a private one.

The Education of a British-Protected Child is neither a memoir nor exactly what it is advertised to be: a collection of autobiographical essays. Of the 16 essays and speeches included here, the most directly autobiographical – “My Dad and Me” and “My Daughters” – are among the briefest. The memories in the title essay are separated by ruminations on British colonialism and the character of the Igbo people. As for the 1990 car accident that cost him the use of his legs, Achebe disposes of it with a couple of sentences in his preface.

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