An ancestry steeped in oral tradition shaped my love for writing fiction. A well written sentence for me is like an Ibo idiom or proverb my grandmother spoke to convey a very simple message she hoped I would not soon forget. Thus, my measure of a great work of fiction is not in the author’s mastery of high grammar and form but how the work spoke of, and to, my own life, stayed with me years after I put it down or captured a world in ways I never thought words alone could.
Of these books, Things Fall Apart and Bleak House first come to mind. The former is literally a chronicle of my ancestral culture and the latter, a journal of what ails my learned profession , both told with unflinching honesty and engaging prose..
The West might yet fully grasp the importance of Things Fall Apart a hundred years hence. Chinua Achebe was among the first generation of Ibos who adopted the written tradition their forbears never had, and this transformation / transition from oral tradition to a newly adopted written tradition was only one of the monumental changes his society was undergoing under colonial invasion in the period he set the novel on. From holding his forbears in religious reverence to being taught to denigrate that reverence as offensive to a “White Jesus,” from native doctors who cured their ills before the Europeans set foot on their soil with Western medicine to being taught that all native medicine was quackery or witch craft, from contracts and judgments sworn before elders and idols and largely enforced by fear of castration by the ancestors in the afterlife or exile in the present life to European style police whose order, right or wrong, was the law, and superseded the sage utterances of the village elders, Achebe captured it all, and even the landscape where it took place, which itself was never the same after those light-complexioned explorers set foot on it. In this small novel called Things Fall Apart, he managed to do all this while preserving the intelligence, honor and integrity the foreigners came to prove the people did not have.
These books were so earnest in fiction that they were also real.