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Nigeria: Achebe's Things Fall Apart Makes Amazon 100 Lifetime Books

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Prof. Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe's classic novel, Things Fall Apart, has been named amongst the 100 books that must be read in a lifetime by Amazon.

Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, recently released the list of essential books everyone must read before dying, and Nigeria's Chinua Achebe made the elite list with his celebrated first novel, Things Fall Apart.

The list was compiled by Amazon Books editorial team, and contains a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books.

The oldest book on the list, which spans decades, is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which was published in 1813. The most recently published book on the list is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, released in 2013.

The Amazon Books editorial team plans to audit the list regularly in order to ensure it always stays culturally relevant.

"We listed the books alphabetically by title because our assumption is that no book is more important than another," said Sara Nelson, Editorial Director of Print and Kindle Books at Amazon.com.

Things Fall Apart was published in 1958, when Achebe was barely 28 years old. It is considered by critics and book lovers to be the single most important piece of literature out of Africa. The 50th anniversary of the 200-odd page novel was celebrated all over the world in 2008 with festivals, readings, symposia, concerts etc. The novel which has been likened to epic Greek tragedies has been translated to more than 50 languages and has sold over 10 million copies. It is taught not just in literature classes but in history and anthropology departments in colleges and universities across the globe. The archetypal theme of the meeting of the white and black races makes Things Fall Apart an epochal event in the annals of world literature.

The book tells the deceptively simple story of Okonkwo, a "strong man" whose life is dominated by the fear of failure. As a teenager he brought honour to his village by throwing the hitherto unbeatable Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match. His fame spread through the nine villages of Umuofia and even beyond like harmattan bushfire, but he remained troubled that his father Unoka was a debtor and a failure. As if to compound matters, Okonkwo notices weakness in his own son, Nwoye, and he comes to the sad conclusion that raging fire only ends up as impotent ash.

The book works at several levels, and can be read at any age from 10 to 100. As a child, one can enjoy incidents such as the match with Amalinze the Cat, Unoka's dismissal of his creditor, Okonkwo's attempted shooting of one of his wives, the visitation of the masked spirits etc. Later in life the many ironies in the book come into play such as the joke on the District Commissioner thinking that Okonkwo's story can only end up as a paragraph in his planned book, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, without knowing that one Mr. Achebe had taken the thunder from him by giving Okonkwo an entire book in which the story is narrated from inside!

It is not for nothing that Mr. Achebe has been celebrated as the father of African literature. He changed the perspective of world literature from the gaudy picture of Africa as painted by Europeans such as Joseph Conrad, Joyce Cary and Rider Haggard to the authentic telling of the tale by the Africans. Unlike earlier African writers like Guinea's Camara Laye, author of The African Child, who painted a romantic picture of the continent, Mr. Achebe is relentlessly objective in his narration, telling it as it is, warts and all.

It is because of the remarkable success of Things Fall Apart that the publishers Heinemann UK launched the African Writers Series, AWS, in 1962 with Achebe's first novel as its first title. For many years Mr. Achebe served as a non-remunerated Editorial Adviser of the series in which several African writers got their breakthrough in publishing.

Things Fall Apart reputedly accounted for 80 per cent of the entire revenue of the AWS.

Nelson Mandela famously called Mr. Achebe "the writer in whose hands the prison walls came crashing down."

Former American President, Jimmy Carter, numbers Mr. Achebe as one of his favourite writers.

The rave reviews for Achebe's most famous novel have somewhat dwarfed his other novels such as No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987).

Mr. Achebe recently won the Man Booker Prize for his lifetime achievement in fiction writing, beating a formidable shortlist that included Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Ian McEwan etc. He equally won as the first African, the American National Arts Club Medal of Honour for Literature in November 2007.

Things Fall Apart has earned its uncommon distinction as a modern classic and was in 1992 adopted into the esteemed Everyman's Library of world classics. The Igbo world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which Achebe limned in Things Fall Apart has become the global picture of Africa writ large. At the turn of the 20th century the book was voted as Africa's "novel of the century."

Chinua Achebe died at exactly 11:51pm (US time), that is 4.51am (Nigerian time), on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at the Harvard University Teaching Hospital, Massachusetts, USA, aged 82. He was buried on Thursday, May 23, 2013 in his native Ogidi, Anambra State with President Goodluck Jonathan and Ghanaian President, John Mahama, in attendance. Tributes came from all over the world.

"Achebe bestrides generations and geographies. Every country in Africa claims him as their own," Mr. Achebe's distinguished colleague, the Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, said.

American President, Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle said, "A revolutionary author, educator, and cultural ambassador, Chinua shattered the conventions of literature and shaped the collective identity of Nigerians throughout the world. With a dream of taking on misperceptions of his homeland, he gave voice to perspectives that cultivated understanding and drew our world closer together. His legacy will endure in the hearts of all whose lives he touched with the everlasting power of his art."

The Full Amazon List of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

1. 1984 by George Orwell

2. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

3. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

4. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

5. A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning: The Short-Lived Edition by Lemony Snicket

6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

7. Alice Munro: Selected Stories by Alice Munro

8. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

9. All the President's Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

10. Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

11. Are You There, God? It's me, Margaret by Judy Blume

12. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

13. Beloved by Toni Morrison

14. Born To Run - A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

15. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat

16. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

17. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Ronald Dahl

18. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

19. Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

20. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown

21. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 by Jeff Kinney

22. Dune by Frank Herbert

23. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

24. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson

25. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

26. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

27. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

28. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond

29. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

30. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

31. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

32. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

33. Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

34. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

35. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

36. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

37. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

38. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

39. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

40. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

41. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

42. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

43. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

44. Moneyball by Michael Lewis

45. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

46. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

47. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

48. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

49. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

50. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen

51. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

52. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

53. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

54. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

55. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

56. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

57. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

58. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

59. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

60. The Color of Water by James McBride

61. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

62. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

63. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

64. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

65. The Giver by Lois Lowry

66. The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

67. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

68. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

69. The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

70. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

71. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

72. The Liars' Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr

73. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

74. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

75. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

76. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright

77. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

78. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

79. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

80. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

81. The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver

82. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

83. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

84. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

85. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

86. The Shining by Stephen King

87. The Stranger by Albert Camus

88. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

89. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

90. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

91. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

92. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami

93. The World According to Garp by John Irving

94. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

95. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

96. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

97. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

98. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

99. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

100. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

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InFocus

Nigerian Author Among 100 Lifetime Books

Prof. Chinua Achebe

Late professor Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart has been named amongst the 100 books that must be read in a lifetime by Amazon. Read more »