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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

The Education of
a British-Protected Child

Chinua Achebe

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To purchase The Education of a British-Protected Child

Title: The Education of a British-Protected Child
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2009)
Length: 168 pages
Availability: The Education of a British-Protected Child - US
The Education of a British-Protected Child - UK
The Education of a British-Protected Child - Canada
  • Most of these pieces are speeches and were adapted from speeches; they were first written/given between 1988 and 2009

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Our Assessment:

B : fine but limited collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Christian Science Monitor . 5/11/2009 Geoff Wisner
Financial Times . 25/1/2010 Okey Ndibe
The Guardian . 13/2/2010 Helon Habila
The Independent . 5/2/2010 Bernardine Evaristo
Independent on Sunday A- 7/2/2010 Susan Elkin
The NY Times . 16/12/2009 Dwight Garner
The NY Times Book Rev. . 31/1/2010 Kaiama L. Glover
The Spectator B 13/1/2010 Michela Wrong
The Telegraph . 16/1/2010 Sameer Rahim
The Telegraph . 7/2/2010 Jonathan Bate
The Times . 6/2/2010 John Sutherland
TLS . 2/4/2010 Andrew van der Vlies

  Review Consensus:

  Like his style, but many are disappointed by the repetition -- and the fact that so little here is new

  From the Reviews:
  • "But if The Education of a British-Protected Child doesnít tell us much that is new about Achebeís life, it does tell us a lot about his views on other matters." - Geoff Wisner, Christian Science Monitor

  • "Achebeís standing as a writer cannot be grasped until we identify the symbiosis between these two spheres of his work: his novelsí themes shape his essays and are shaped in return. (...) The essays reveal a characteristic awareness of history, mediated by the authorís Igbo heritage, and an intellectual temperament suspicious of fanaticism of any sort, secular or religious." - Okey Ndibe, Financial Times

  • "This may not be a scholarly work, but what it lacks in scholasticism, it more than makes up for in wisdom and passion, as well as those rare and often overlooked attributes of great literature, clarity and consistency of vision." - Helon Habila, The Guardian

  • "His essays conflate the personal, anecdotal, political and historical. (...) It is in writing about personal relationships that Achebe, a man of his time and culture, falls short." - Bernardine Evaristo, The Independent

  • "Achebe's measured directness is a delight. (...) Some of these perfectly written, totally accessible essays are quite short and almost whimsical. (...) To avoid being too aware of the unavoidable (given the format) repetitions, treat this as a dipping book and read one delicious essay at a time over a period of a few months, rather than gobbling it cover to cover in a few days as I did." - Susan Elkin, Independent on Sunday

  • "A few are slack and talky (many began as lectures), and Mr. Achebe is not wrong to describe several as rambling. But at its best, this collection will put you in mind of lines spoken by the poet Ikem in Mr. Achebeís 1987 novel, Anthills of the Savannah: "Writers donít give prescriptions. They give headaches!"" - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "Simply and directly, he addresses many of the most fraught realities of colonial and postcolonial existence for the 20th- and 21st-century West African. The tone of his book is patient and measured, his voice personable and welcoming. Playfully deflating his own narrative authority by allowing admittedly shaky memories to stand as fact, Achebe juxtaposes ostensibly mild personal anecdotes with serious political reflections. He moves adroitly from the particular to the general, humbly revealing the greatness in each one of his small stories." - Kaiama L. Glover, The New York Times Book Review

  • "This being Achebe -- a writer whose sheer lucidity has always placed him in a league of his own -- there is much to savour. (...) As the book proceeds, thereís a growing sense of a writer fighting old wars. The fact that the author in question played a key role in consigning those battles to history does not lessen oneís awareness of a certain repetition." - Michela Wrong, The Spectator

  • "Achebeís voice remains clear and wise. Though here he is playing the grand old man of African letters, his work has earned his reputation." - Sameer Rahim, The Telegraph

  • "Most of the pieces are not essays. They are lectures and addresses, often rambling, unstructured, tailored to particular occasions. Though a few of the pieces have not been published, they were delivered 15 or even 20 years ago. (...) The same anecdotes and arguments crop up time after time." - Jonathan Bate, The Telegraph

  • "Achebeís latest volume is a collection of speeches, mostly directed to audiences who know nothing about him other than that he wrote "the most-read novel to have come out of Africa". Some of these public addresses go back 20 years. All the material is already known." - John Sutherland, The Times

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:

       The Education of a British-Protected Child is the first book by Chinua Achebe to appear in a decade, but more than anything it suggests the author has not moved on into the new millennium. Almost all the pieces here are at least a decade old, and several date to the 1980s. The three short more recent pieces are also retrospective -- 'My Daughters' looks at his daughters' childhoods, 'Recognitions' the 1989 celebrations of him in New York, and even 'What is Nigeria to Me ?' focuses on earlier times, rather than Nigeria's recent or current situation.
       Indeed, it is the short Preface that is the most revealing about more recent times --- including a brief description of the circumstances of his crippling 1990 accident -- though there's also not very much to it. Achebe describes the book as: "a collection of essays that spans my career as a writer", but there are far too many gaps for it to qualify as that. Instead, this is a very loose collection of pieces, many of which were first presented as speeches (and retain the casual tone of such presentations) that covers many areas of Achebe's interest, but ignores many others. It's a welcome addition to his previous non-fiction collections, but far from comprehensive -- or very new. And among the disappointments is that it is very much a loose collection, rather than a carefully structured one; while he has revised some of the texts, there's still a great deal of repetition here from piece to piece; there's certainly not much to show editorially for a decade's worth of work.
       Achebe does have a great deal of charm, and the very casual title-piece of reflections on his childhood and education is certainly winning and entertaining enough. Would, however, that it had been the starting point for an actual memoir, rather than just a collection of anecdotes and reflections .....
       Several of the pieces tackle political issues, and Achebe's slyly humorous way of addressing most of these is quite appealing. His description of how he spoke up at a session at the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the OECD, describing the discussions of the economists, bankers, and politicians as "a fiction workshop, no more and no less" is wonderful -- yet again, as happens repeatedly, Achebe is satisfied with the anecdote and the point (and the criticism), but doesn't build on that. Even the critiques -- even of the worst outrages of colonialism -- stay very general and are often too simplistic: there's more to most of these issues than he is willing to engage with (or rather, one suspects, to go on record with).
       Achebe tiptoes around most Nigerian issues as well, anchoring himself firmly in Igbo culture while carefully avoiding much discussion of Nigeria's complex ethnic, linguistic, and religious mix. He does address the language-question -- specifically the use of English (or other colonially-imposed languages) rather than indigenous ones by African writers -- in one of the more interesting pieces, 'Politics and Politicians of Language in African Literature', in which he takes on Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Decolonising the Mind (beginning with the title of the piece, a "mischievous rendering of the subtitle of the book", as he feels compelled to point out). Yet even here there is some side-stepping on Achebe's part, as he goes after the softer target, denouncing: "where the politics of language becomes politicking with language" rather than fully engaging with the language-issue itself. (Fair enough, to some extent, in this case -- the piece is specifically a criticism of Ngũgĩ's argument (and the way Ngũgĩ makes his argument), which goes beyond the mere language question itself.) He does return to the question elsewhere -- and notes that: "For me, it is not either English or Igbo, it is both" -- but makes only a very limited case.
       Achebe offers interesting thoughts and observations on the colonial legacy and colonial oppression, on what childhood was like, on how white folk -- from Joseph Conrad to OECD dignitaries -- have seen and treated Africans, but The Education of a British-Protected Child seems stuck slightly in the past. There's essentially no acknowledgement of any events of the past decade -- and while Achebe may have reason to avoid specific discussion of recent Nigerian circumstances, enough has happened on the continent (and elsewhere) that is hard to overlook yet that he also willfully seems to ignore. The Education of a British-Protected Child is oddly stuck in the past.
       It's not solely a rut: Achebe writes gracefully and humorously -- and insightfully -- enough to make it an enjoyable collection. The shame of it is that it's not a more cohesive book -- a better-edited collection, if all he wanted to do was toss these rather stray essays together, or, preferably, a single, larger narrative constructed out of this material.
       Certainly of interest -- and a good collection for those who haven't read any of Achebe's earlier works of non-fiction -- but, given the stories he could tell and the thoughts he could share, something of a disappointment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 February 2010

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The Education of a British-Protected Child: Reviews: Chinua Achebe: Other books by Chinua Achebe under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Leading Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (Albert Chinualumogu Achebe) lived 1930 to 2013.

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