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Published in 1960, the year of Nigeria's independence, No Longer At Ease is the second novel in Chinua Achebe's trilogy that explores Nigeria's history through fiction. The first novel, Things Fall Apart, details the period leading up to "pacification," the moment when British colonizers violently took control of southern Nigeria. No Longer At Ease is set at the brink of Nigeria's independence, some sixty-plus years later. This second novel vividly demonstrates the moral destruction colonialism wreaked on Igbo society and culture. (The third novel in the series, Arrow of God, is set in the period between pacification and independence, depicting the long, slow death of Igbo culture during colonialism.)
No Longer At Ease is the story of how a young, educated Nigerian man returns home from university education abroad, certain that young men like himself can and will eliminate corruption as they replace the older, uneducated and corrupt Africans who make up the civil workforce. But due to his own pride and lack of foresight, he soon becomes involved in corruption himself. We learn how one young man, despite his pure ideals, will never be a match against a system of power that relies on corruption and bribery.
Picture this: you wake up one day and decide that nobody should pay with American currency anymore. From now on, you and everybody else will get paid in bananas. Now, leaving aside the logistical question of how you keep all those bananas fresh without turning all brown and mushy, what do you think would happen when you marched down to the local shoe shop and plunked down a bunch of fruit to pay for a new pair of kicks? That's right. You ain't walking out with new shoes, friend. You tried to change the system, but one person—despite what the slogans might have told you—just can't make the world change overnight.
But this is the same hard reality that our protagonist Obi encounters in No Longer at Ease. He returns to Nigeria, filled with big ideas about how to "civilize" his home according to western standards. Little by little, though, he is shown the error of his ways. One person can't just go up against centuries of tradition and practice, no matter how determined they are.
It might seem like a bummer, but this book will give you a valuable lesson in appreciating cultural inertia. In other words, things that have been done a certain way for a long period of time tend to keep being done in that same way. Change does come to everything, but usually it happens gradually, and from within. So, before you go off and organize that Rally Against Grades, check this book out. It just may shed some light on how not to pull off a one-person revolution.
Presentation at the Christopher Okigbo International Conference at Harvard University
Chinua Achebe Interview
Bill Moyers interviews Chinua Achebe
Chinua Achebe Interview
Achebe talks about slavery, the African diaspora, Africa, and colonialism.
No Longer At Ease
An album by Nneka.
Poster for a reading at Cornell.
A Long Way From Home
An interview with Chinua Achebe in The Guardian.
The New Black Magazine
The New Black Magazine reviews No Longer At Ease.
BBC Story on Chinua Achebe
This is a great, short profile on Chinua Achebe. Plus, it links to other BBC articles about Nigeria and Achebe's disillusionment with Nigeria.
Bard Professor wins Booker Prize