The first novel and masterpiece from the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart,” is such an economical and lucid depiction of a tribal society cracking under the weight of colonialism that it has become required reading in many American high schools. It’s the stinging “To Kill a Mockingbird” of modern African literature.
First published in 1958, “Things Fall Apart” turned 50 last year, to wide acclaim. In 2007 Mr. Achebe won the Man Booker International Prize, a lifetime achievement award. But if Mr. Achebe has been much in the news, he’s been silent on the page. His new volume of essays, “The Education of a British-Protected Child,” is his first book since he was paralyzed from the waist down, in 1990, in a car accident in Nigeria.
It’s a welcome return. Those who have closely followed Mr. Achebe’s career won’t find much that’s new in “The Education of a British-Protected Child.” He deals only glancingly with subjects his readers might be curious about in 2009, like how the aftershocks of his accident have affected his life and work.
But in this book he tangles further, and profitably, with the obsessions that have defined his career: colonialism, identity, family, the uses and abuses of language. And he returns to some of the still smoldering controversies that have shaped his reputation. These include his groundbreaking 1975 analysis of the racism lurking in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” and his defense against critics who have attacked him for writing African literature in the colonizer’s language, English.