Nigeria: Christmas in Biafra | Chinua Achebe

This sunked-eyed moment wobbling
down the rocky steepness on broken
bones slowly fearfully to hideous
concourse of gathering sorrows in the valley
will yet become in another year a lost
Christmas irretrievable in the heights
its exploding inferno transmuted
by cosmic distances to the peacefulness
of a cool twinkling star…. To dead-cells
of that moment came farway sounds of other
men’s carols floating on crackling waves
mocking us. With regret? Hope? Longing? None of
these, strangely, not even despair rather
distilling pure transcendental hate….

Beyond the hospital gate
the good nuns had set up a manger
of palms to house a fine plastercast
scene at Bethlehem. The Holy
Family was central, serene, the Child
Jesus plump wise-looking and rose-cheeked: one
of the magi in keeping with legend
a black Othello in sumptuous robes. Other
figures of men and angels stood
at well-appointed distances from
the heart of the divine miracle
and the usual cattle gazed on
in holy wonder….

Poorer than the poor worshipers
before her who had paid their homage
with pitiful offering of new aluminum
coins that few traders would take and
a frayed five-shilling note she only
crossed herself and prayed open-eyed. Her
infant son flat like a dead lizard
on her shoulder his arms and legs
cauterised by famine was a miracle
of its kind. Large sunken eyes
stricken past boredom to a flat
unrecognising glueyness moped faraway
motionless across her shoulder….

Now her adoration over
she turned him around and pointed
at those pretty figures of God
and angels and men and beasts-
a spectacle to stir the heart
of a child. But all he vouchsafed
was one slow deadpan look of total
unrecognition and he began again
to swivel his enormous head away
to mope as before at his empty distance….
She shrugged her shoulders, crossed
herself again, and took him away.

Culled from: Chinua Achebe Collected Poems Anchor Books (2004)

Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013) was a Nigerian novelist, poet, professor, and critic. He was best known for his first novel and magnum opus, Things Fall Apart (1958), which is the most widely read book in modern African literature. Raised in Nigeria, Achebe excelled at school and won a scholarship for undergraduate studies. He became fascinated with world religions and traditional African cultures, and began writing stories as a university student. His later novels include No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God(1964), A Man of the People (1966), and Anthills of the Savannah(1987). When the region of Biafra broke away from Nigeria in 1967, Achebe became a supporter of Biafran independence and acted as ambassador for the people. After the Nigerian government retook the region in 1970, he involved himself in political parties but soon resigned. From 2009 until his death, he served as a professor at Brown University.


Tunde Leye: An Interview With Okada Books’ Top Selling Author

If you haven’t heard of Okada Books yet, you’re missing out on a wealth of stories written by young Nigerian authors and hosted on the Okada Books app. A platform that allows writers to self-publish their works and directly engage with readers. Despite such an open market approach (reminiscent of Figment and Amazon’s self publishing arm), some authors stand out from the crowd and Tunde Leye is one of them. Deemed one of the more popular Okada Books authors, he shared some of his insights about his writing process and his short story, The Burden of Proof with The African Book Review.

Tunde Leye

ABR: In your bio you suggest that stories form the basis of society and the arts. Can you expand on that notion and discuss how that inspires your writing?

LEYE: Writing records our thoughts and transmits them with precision we could never manage by any other means. Singers, artists, politicians, explorers and all sorts of people have been inspired by the things they read. Almost everyone can point to that book they read that was the fulcrum around which their lives turned. That is why when dictators and tyrants take over rulership…they go after writers and their books. They know how important these are. It is what has inspired writers to put their words down in spite of danger and the amount of work they have to do to complete the works.

ABR: The Burden of Proof incorporates some aspects of the Nigerian-Biafran war. What fueled your interest in this period of Nigerian history and did you have to conduct any research to incorporate those aspects of the war into your story?

LEYE: As with any writing, research is one of the most important parts. Thankfully the internet has made researching easier. Of course it helped to talk to people who actually lived and fought on both sides [of the war] to get a grasp of how it affected people beneath the normalcy that their lives now have. Nigerian history in general interests me and a lot of my writing takes different aspects of the history as elements that influence the plots and characters.

ABR:  An intriguing part of the tale is how efficient the police force is. Is this representative of modern Nigerian society or a reflection of how you’d like the police force to operate?

LEYE: [The story] was actually close to reality…after speaking with and observing our police. Those pieces are there, it merely takes driving and coordinating them better together. However, I do take some artistic liberty as most fiction does when referring to law enforcement. I mean, we watch police investigation stories from Hollywood where they get DNA results in hours whereas it takes much longer and requires the DNA samples to be of a certain quality in reality.

ABR: What inspires your writing? And are there any habits that help you keep writing/ maintain a certain standard of storytelling?

LEYE: My writing flows out of two things – I read a lot, I listen and observe things and events very keenly and ponder them. I tend to pace myself when I write and I firmly believe the maxim “the only way to improve on writing is to write” so I write a lot. I write three blog posts weekly, two of them fiction and an opinion piece for a newspaper, as well as working on a novel alongside. It helps to have a sort of schedule I write on and keep to it. I also write in iterations. First, I put down a skeleton of the piece and then I flesh it out in several iterations, adding the details and giving the characters life as I go. I also try to make sure my characters are real people in their reactions and actions. This doesn’t downplay the fact that writing is difficult, but it is a skill and needs to be/practiced regularly to sharpen.

ABR: Can you tell us a bit more about your upcoming projects?

LEYE: I started Write Right this year, a writing prize to discover new writers, reward them and support them to write books and start blogs beyond the prize.

I am also working on my third book, an epic fantasy novel called Guardians of the Seals which is due out next year. Of course, I’ll keep writing fiction on my blog TLSPLACE for some time to come.

Tunde Leye was born in Lagos, Nigeria. The author of multiple online series as well as an illustrated children’s book, he runs one of the most well-read fiction blogs in Nigeria,

The Burden of Proof is a well written short story that blends elements of the Biafran war, the Nigerian police force and her legal system to form a dark mystery, after a Biafran war veteran is murdered. Set in what might pass for a Nigerian-utopia bridling with efficiency and layman justice, the story is optimistic with an incisive focus that doesn’t waver and leaves the reader expecting more at the end. Read here. 

A Mother In a Refugee Camp by Chinua Achebe (excerpt)

Achebe 1This a wonderful excerpt from a poem by Chinua Achebe. The poem is centered around a mother in a refugee camp, most likely during the Biafran war. The link between the past and present and the way war ruptures this is focused so articulately in the mother’s actions, combing her son’s hair. The foreshadowing, ‘like putting flowers on a tiny grave,’ anchors the poem rendering it heartbreaking yet somehow full of hope. Most people know Achebe as a great writer, not necessarily as a poet but his collection of poetry in Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe is a brilliant, tender, and humorous exploration of a range of topics many centered around the effects of war in Biafra, colonialism in Nigeria, and the poets own observations on life.