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the Complete Review
the complete review - autobiographical



Home and Exile

by
Chinua Achebe


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Home and Exile



Title: Home and Exile
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Essays
Written: 2000
Length: 107 pages
Availability: Home and Exile - US
Home and Exile - UK
Home and Exile - Canada
  • This book "came out of" the 1998 McMillan-Stuart Lectures at Harvard University that Achebe delivered 9-11 December 1998

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Our Assessment:

B : some interesting points, fairly well presented, but lacks focus and depth

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Independent A 6/1/2001 Alastair Niven
The Nation . 10/7/2000 James North
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/8/2000 Christina Cho
The Spectator . 24/2/2001 Robert Oakeshott

  From the Reviews:
  • "In this book, Achebe reveals more than he has before about his parents, his education and his early career before becoming a writer." - Alastair Niven, The Independent

  • "Achebe's central purpose, advanced with passionate eloquence, is simple: to show how the West continues to insist on a view of Africa that is dark, negative and dehumanizing." - James North, The Nation

  • "Home and Exile is, fittingly, permeated by ideas of rebirth and return." - Christina Cho, The New York Times Book Review

  • "On the other hand, in the case of Joyce Carey’s novel Mister Johnson, which Achebe takes as the prime example of the treatment about which he is complaining, I feel sure, having just read it for the first time, that he gets it in part at least badly wrong." - Robert Oakeshott, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Originally three lectures, the three pieces that make up this small book offer some autobiographical background from the great Nigerian author Achebe, as well as an overview of his thoughts on literature from and about Africa. These are fairly casual pieces, and unfortunately they are still too close in tone to the anecdote-filled lectures that aim to please a large crowd. Nevertheless, there are a number of worthwhile bits strewn in as well.
       The first piece, My Home under Imperial Fire, is the most autobiographically-focussed. Achebe writes of his Igbo (Ibo) childhood, though it is only a glimpse of his family life that is offered. (His father was an Anglican missionary, retiring in 1935 -- when Chinua was five -- to his ancestral home.) Early literary influences are discussed, the most significant being Joyce Cary's Mister Johnson -- not for its literary qualities but for the questions raised by a European writing an ostensibly "Nigerian" novel (and the lavish praise he received for, among other things, its authenticity). Achebe convincingly presents Cary's book as a challenge that in many ways inspired him, his own work, and especially his attitude towards literature.
       The second piece, The Empire Fights Back, looks more closely at African literature written by outsiders (most notably the half-outsider Elspeth Huxley), and examines the burgeoning of an authentic African literature in the 1950s. The launch of the epochal Heinemann's African Writers Series is covered, and director Alan Hill receives his due plaudits. Achebe examines reactions in England to books such as Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drunkard, including the reactions of the Nigerians living there who criticized the book (generally, apparently, without even having read it).
       The final piece, Today, the Balance of Stories, moves towards examining the contemporary situation, ripping into V.S.Naipaul in the process. It is here also that the question of home and exile, travel and return, is most fully explored.
       The book is a fairly mixed bag. There are memories of his youth and various anecdotes interspersed with quite trenchant analyses of literature from and about Africa. Elspeth Huxley is keenly cut to size. Only the discussion of Naipaul is perhaps too simplistic -- there is surely more complexity to Naipaul's bizarre attitudes, and it should be explored more fully; merely quoting his outrageous pronouncements is just too easy.
       Home and Exile is useful as a very superficial introduction to the African literary scene starting in the 1950s. It is also worthwhile for the additional autobiographical titbits Achebe offers. Nevertheless the gifted writer Achebe here presents a very unfocussed and simple little book that reads much like the original lectures it is based on must have. It might entertain an impatient crowd, but most readers will probably regret that he does not go in far greater depth in his discussions.
       A tantalizing glimpse, often well written and well presented, it leaves one wishing for more -- much more.

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Links:

Home and Exile: Reviews: Chinua Achebe: Other books by Chinua Achebe under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Africa-related titles

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About the Author:

       Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (Albert Chinualumogu Achebe) was born 16 November 1930. He has written a number of highly regarded novels, notably Things Fall Apart. He currently teaches at Brown.

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