Humane and carefully argued responses to events of recent years, coupled with a long look back at the African past.



Deftly connected autobiographical essays by renowned Nigerian author Achebe (Languages and Literature/Bard Coll.; Anthills of the Savannah, 1987, etc.).

“I have news for you,” he writes. “Africa is not fiction. Africa is people, real people.” In his first new book since Anthills, Achebe challenges the economic-development experts of today, the successors of the colonialists of yesteryear. Allowing for the good intentions of both, the author examines the effects of outside tinkering with the continent, which today can take the form of bankers’ “structural adjustments” that result only in the continued immiseration of ordinary people. One source of such actions is paternalism, alluded to in the title of the collection, and Achebe allows for a bit of it in himself when he writes of his native country, “Nigeria is a child. Gifted, enormously talented, prodigiously endowed, and incredibly wayward.” And terribly corrupt, as well, which is no impediment to Achebe’s call for well-meaning people to roll up their sleeves and get to work helping Africa in real ways. Achebe’s view of African realities is hard-won, born of years of exile and thousands of miles of travels across the continent. He refrains, as he notes with some irony, from lecturing on colonialism per se, but he articulates a clear view of the ill effects of colonial rule. He also revisits a number of themes addressed in other works, including his objection to the European literature surrounding Africa, notably Joseph Conrad’s ungenerous Heart of Darkness, and his championing of African writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Cheikh Hamidou Kane (“Conrad portrays a void; Hamidou Kane celebrates a human presence and a heroic if doomed struggle”). For every supposed primitive sensibility and quaint superstition to be found in Africa, Achebe observes, there’s a counterpart in America and Europe—reason enough to shed ethnocentrism and open one’s eyes.

Humane and carefully argued responses to events of recent years, coupled with a long look back at the African past.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-27255-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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