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There Was a Country

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Achebe’s own story is gradually interwoven with the story of Biafra, a name that does not appear for almost a hundred pages. Shortly before the 1966 coup, Achebe published his novel "A Man of the People," which described “a military coup that overthrows a corrupt civilian government.” When the real-life coup was put down, Achebe was suspected of knowing about it in advance. In response to a government crackdown, Achebe and his family joined the flood of perhaps a million Igbos and other Nigerians into the east. The exiles declared themselves an independent country and were promptly attacked and blockaded by the government.

A chapter called “Refugees” contains Achebe’s most extended account of his life during the war. A VIP in the new nation, Achebe rode in an official car (his own car was a Jaguar) and flew to various countries as Biafra’s official envoy. But he and his family were not immune from attack.

"The Biafran government had issued a public safety warning to all citizens to abstain from wearing clothes of light colors like white or cream or sharp colors such as orange, purple, or red that could be easily spotted by the Nigerian air force. The Nigerian pilots approaching their chosen targets would often switch off the engines of the planes, then fly very low – treetop level – before they would begin the bombing onslaught. One could see that the plane crew was pushing out these bombs with their hands, tossing them out from an open aircraft door or shaft! Occasionally when the Nigerians used their aircraft guns to shoot at civilian or military installations, we noticed that some of the bullet cases were from large hunting ammo usually reserved for wild game."
Working one day with Christopher Okigbo at the offices of the Citadel Press in Enugu, the two men heard a distant explosion. Achebe continued to work and set out to run an errand, deciding to drop by his home on the way. He found an enormous crater where his apartment complex had stood. His wife and children had left shortly before.

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