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Review: A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe

March 11, 2011

Title: A Man of the People
Author: Achebe, Chinua
Length: 150 pages
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Publisher / Year: Anchor Books / 1967
Original Published In: 1966
Source: Secret Santa
Rating: 5/5
Why I Read It: Because I love Achebe’s works, and am slowly working my way through them.
Date Read: 10/03/11

Each book I read by Achebe only increases my respect for him. This title was written in 1967 and set in an unnamed African state. The novel is a political satire which ended up predicting events that would occur in Nigeria shortly after publication, putting his life in danger. The coup in Nigeria was the first of two which led to the Biafran war.

This book is a story told by Odili of the events which happened over the past few months. It is well told with enough foreshadowing to keep you on the edge of your seat and to keep you reading late into the night, but not enough to give anything away or distract you. At the start of the book Odili is a young teacher and is waiting for the minister of culture, the much-loved but very corrupt Chief Nanga, to show up. He is frustrated by the fact that all of the people love him despite his corruption and the fact that the government is ruining the economy of the country. He says on page 2:

I wished for a miracle, for a voice of thunder, to hush this ridiculous festival and tell the poor contemptible people one or two truths. But of course it would be quite useless. They were not only ignorant but cynical. Tell them that this man had used his position to enrich himself and they would ask you – as my father did – if you thought that a sensible man would spit out the juicy morsel that good fortune placed in his mouth.

However Odili soon becomes enchanted by Chief Nanga when he remembers him as a former student back when he was a teacher and not a politician and invites him to his house in the city. Through the course of the novel as Odili narrates the chain of events the reader is often left wondering how much he is changing to make himself look better in retrospect. Numerous times though he says this very thing himself, that it is hard to write of things when you already know their ending. I loved the way this was done, highlighting how our perception of events can change over time.

On page 37 Odili says of the corruption and the refusal of leaders to allow free and fair elections:

A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors all the time. The trouble with our new nation – as I saw it then lying on that bed – was that none of us had been indoors long enough to be able to say “To hell with it”. We had ¬†all been in the rain together until yesterday. Then a handful of us – the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best – had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in.

I thought this was an apt metaphor and description of the way that many rulers throughout the world try to hold on to power. If they’ve never lived under anything else and the options are wealth and power or absolutely nothing and poverty… well what would you choose? The root cause is shown not only as the ‘rain’, or lack of options available, but also as the lack of progress made in making the rain more bearable for everyone else. Instead those who found the shelter in government try their best to stay there.

In discussing the corruption of the government another theme that came up again and again was that of ¬†cynicism. The regular people were all cynical and didn’t think anyone else could do better. They had resigned themselves to having nothing and that things would continue the same. On page 66 he says:

as long as men are swayed by their hearts and stomachs and not their heads the Chief Nangas of this world will continue to get away with anything.

Another great line that is true even in my own country these days. We often seem to forget to actually think through everything and instead listen to the rhetoric that is spewed through the media.

Overall, another fantastic offering from Chinua Achebe that I would highly recommend to all. There is certainly a lot to think on in this book and I know I will be coming back to it in the future.

36 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2011 10:28 am

    Happy you enjoyed this novel. I also did, perhaps not as much as you.

  2. March 11, 2011 10:33 am

    I am happy for the fact that you are gradually working your way through Achebe’s books. In fact, I could not put this book down when I read it and did not want it to end. Cheers!

    • March 17, 2011 8:41 am

      Yes, it is fantastic Geosi. I’m looking forward to when I can go pick up a few more now that I’ve read all of the ones by him that I own!

  3. March 11, 2011 11:48 am

    I love the fact that you are reading your way through Achebe’s books and that each one impresses you in a different way. I think the quotes you provided were really very revealing and though I know little about the region and it’s politics, something about your review has drawn me to this story. Do you think that this might be an ok place to start with Achebe?

    • March 17, 2011 8:42 am

      Yes, his books are all fantastic in their own right zibilee. Either this or Arrow of God would be the best places to start I think zibilee.

    • fathima permalink
      November 20, 2011 9:10 am

      Your quotes pin down the main theme of the book. Good work.!

  4. March 12, 2011 8:56 am

    I have never read anything by Chinua Achebe but the more I read about his work, the more intrigued I become.

    • March 17, 2011 8:42 am

      Oh yes I do hope that you give him a chance some day Lydia!

  5. March 12, 2011 9:49 pm

    I read this one a couple of years ago and thought it was brilliant, smart and incredibly moving.

  6. March 13, 2011 10:10 am

    I have yet to read any Acebe I have to say Amy but this one sounds interesting, would it make a good start into the authors works or would you suggest another title to be devoured first instead?

    • March 13, 2011 10:11 am

      That should be Achebe, sorry.

    • March 17, 2011 8:44 am

      Hmm… Simon, I would suggest either this one or Arrow of God. Personally I would recommend Arrow of God but both are engaging and I think either would suit as an introduction. Most people start with Things Fall Apart which is his most famous, but so far it’s been my least favorite so I would recommend waiting with it.

  7. March 13, 2011 12:15 pm

    I may need to give Achebe another try. My horrid experience with Things Fall Apart (the first two chapters anyway…twice) really turned me off. Maybe I’m in a better place to read him now than I was ten years ago though.

    • March 17, 2011 8:44 am

      Yes that is my least favorite work by him so far Trisha! I really think you should try Arrow of God instead, or this one!

  8. March 13, 2011 2:54 pm

    I swear, this WILL be the year I finally read Achebe. An excellent review as always, Amy!

  9. March 19, 2011 4:29 pm

    Amy and Achebe sitting in a tree
    R-E-A-D-I-N-G

  10. jenny permalink
    October 11, 2011 6:10 pm

    i have a essay to write about the role of women in the novel could u help like give me some pointers please asap so far i have women are domesticated page 46

    • October 13, 2011 12:56 am

      I appologize Jenny, you’re on your own for the assignment :) I don’t do school work anymore!!

    • Ndavi Diana permalink
      October 17, 2011 11:04 am

      Am having a test tommorow on this novel very interesting mmmmmmmmmh!

  11. October 24, 2011 6:29 am

    Dear all, am writing my BA dissertation about corruption and power abuse as reflectedn in “a man of people” by Achebe;
    would you help me find more articles and websites for more information?
    Thanks

    • October 30, 2011 9:19 am

      I don’t have anything sorry, hope you can find what you need – good luck Nicolas!

  12. October 24, 2011 6:30 am

    Rwanda is my Beloved country,
    thank you

  13. January 28, 2012 8:07 am

    chinua is a great man all his novels are nice keep it up

  14. Toby permalink
    August 25, 2012 6:23 pm

    Hey, Amy. I must confess I was – for want of a better word – thrilled when I visited your blog and found out you read – well are somewhat obsessed (in a good way, of course) with Nigerian literature. For me I find that it’s nothing short of liberating that a foreigner expresses genuine interest in learning more about the country. I am proudly Nigerian and am pleased at the pleasure you’ve derived from our literature. Your work here is absolutely amazing. Great job!

    • August 28, 2012 10:04 am

      Thank you for the kind words Toby! You are blessed to come from a country with so many great authors :)

  15. June 21, 2013 3:12 am

    thanks amy that was a great piece of work . congrats

  16. July 10, 2013 4:13 am

    It will be noted that really the works of this legendary man Achebe are true depictions from our current society and what will happen in future.He emphasizes on political issues and how they are really related to the society including the plain and hypocritical nature of our leaders who are only interested in fullfilling their selfish interests at the expense of the poor peple of the sciety who literally tend to be blind but are later enlightened by the negative effects as an un-expected scenario takes placelike the coup which drew Chief Nanga really to almost the last breath of his life.God forbid and may our great literature father(true son of the continent ”ACHEBE”)who believed in change rest in peace.

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  1. March 2011 Reading Wrap-Up « Amy Reads

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