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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Evocative Return to the Themes of Things Fall Apart, July 30 2000
This splendid short novel demonstrates Achebe's continuing ability to depict the challenges posed to African societies by modernism and Western influence. It details the plight of three educated, upper-class Africans attempting to survive in an atmosphere of political oppression and cultural confusion. Set in the fictional African country of Kangan, it is clearly patterned after Achebe's native Nigeria, though one can also see elements of Liberia and Ghana.
This was the first Achebe novel I had read since his classic Things Fall Apart. At first, I thought that Anthills suffered in comparison with that masterpiece, arguably the best known and most influential African novel. After finishing the book, though, I realized that Achebe had very deftly returned to and updated the themes raised in that book.
His protagonists are Ikem, a courageous and opinionated newspaper editor; Chris, his friend and predecessor as editor, now the somewhat-reluctant Commissioner of Information in a military-led government; and Beatrice, a brilliant, beautiful mid-level civil servant, also Chris's lover. Each studied abroad and is comfortable tossing off literary references and cultural cues from the West. At the same time, each is proud of and clearly shaped by his/her African heritage.
Kangan is ruled by a smart but narrow-minded military officer who rose to power following a coup. "His Excellency" is also coincidentally and not at all implausibly an acquaintance of all three main characters, bringing a very personal dynamic to the struggles they face as Ikem sharpens his already bitter criticism of the government, to the professional discomfort of Chris and the personal alarm of Beatrice.
I found the first half of the book a little hard to get through at times. The prose is often overwrought and the narrator changes from chapter to chapter, making it difficult to follow. Further complicating things is the frequent use of West African dialect, especially in dialogue between the lead characers and their less-westernized compatriots. While this brings a ring of authenticity to the work, it also requires close attention by non-African readers to divine the literal meaning of the deceptively familiar words. As the novel progresses, though, the confusing switch-off of narrators ends, the prose becomes sharper, and the storyline clearer.
Achebe sprinkles humor liberally throughout the book. The characters serve up a steady stream of clever, expressive African aphorisms. The most memorable of these are delivered by a tribal elder from Abazon in an impromptu tribute to Ikem. Achebe also paints vivid and funny accounts of a monstrous traffic jam, a confrontation with soldiers at a checkpoint, and an up-country bustrip. those who have spent any significant time on the continent will nod their heads and chuckle at these uniquely African scenes.
As in Things Fall Apart, the insidious influence of the West is depicted mostly indirectly. While there are no major European characters, the cynicism of Western expatriates and the cluelessness of Western journalists are reflected quite well in two minor characters, a British doctor who administers the local hospital and a visiting American reporter. More often, though, the specter of Western influence hovers in the background. One sees it in the alienation of the lead characters from their roots, most vividly in Beatrice's reminisces of her village childhood and university days in Britain.
In the end, Achebe seems not so much to be blaming the West for Africa's problems as pointing out the ways in which, years after independence -- and even longer since things first "fell apart" -- African societies continue to struggle with the legacy of colonialism. The villains are not Europeans but the opportunistic soldiers, politicians, and businesspersons who came to power afer the departure of the colonists.
Achebe's perceptiveness and skillful sketches of characters make this an important work, a period piece as representative of contemporary, post-independence Africa as Things Fall Apart was of colonial Africa.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars where is my country today?, Oct. 11 2001
Doug Anderson (Miami Beach, Florida United States) - See all my reviews
Achebe wrote three classic books in the 1950's and then after a long hiatus returned to the novel with the publication of Anthills in 89. The earlier books dealt with the effect of modern civilization on traditional African life. This book uses one nation as an example of what is happening with many nations as they struggle to find their own version of modern life without altogether letting go of tradition. The characters are all educated, many in the west, but strictly western modes of rule do not work in third world conditions quite as smoothly as they do in industrial conditons. Big changes are needed and a big leader is needed to effect those changes quickly and successfully but that age old maxim applies here as elsewhere: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A great book showing how good intentions can quickly go wrong. Achebe tells the story through the personalities playing a part in it and so you never feel he is making abstract points. He shows the human side of these dramas we so often see played out on the 6'o clock news. A touching and tragic book. Achebe is a fascinating person to see interviewed as well, perhaps the most articulate and insightful spokesman on modern Africa as it searches to find its shape.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Never a dull excellent piece of work, Jan. 24 2000
By A Customer
Chinua Achebe has produced a masterpiece in "Anthills of the Savannah". Set in fictional Kangan, Achebe spins a highly intriguing tale of three men who grew up in school together but find themselves increasingly alienated from one another professionally when one of them (not the smartest but the smoothest) declares himself President in the aftermath of the overthrow of the civilian Kangan government. Conflict of conscience issues generated by moves by the would-be dictator to consolidate his power over his people threaten to destroy their friendship and loyalty. It is no longer the white man who is responsible for the grinding poverty of the masses but the revolutionary fighters whose corruption and lust for power undermines their cause. Achebe is also brilliant in his characterisation. Ikem and Chris are vividly drawn and full bodied personalities, as are Beatrice and Elewe. Even minor characters like Professor Okong who appears only in the novel remain sharply etched in one's mind long after they have disappeared from the scene. "Anthills of the Savannah" remind me a little of V S Naipaul's "Guerillas" but it is by far a superior work. A thrilling and highly engaging piece of work by a literary giant.
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5.0 out of 5 stars masterpiece, Jan. 17 2000
This is indeed a masterpiece by the grandmaster of the African novel.As usual Achebe brings his characters to life in an amazing way.The setting is a fictional African country and the main characters are three men who met in high school the seemingly seperate lives they lived until a point when fate joined them together again is indeed the tragedy of modern African states.You have the military men,the sychophants,Pseudo radical intellectuals and of course the endlessly suffering masses whom all groups profess to know their problem.It is indeed recommended reading for anybody remotely interested in not only African but Latin American politics.
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5.0 out of 5 stars quite entertaining and gripping, June 26 1997
By A Customer
it is as ever a wonderful display of writing skill
and imagination. you feel compelled to prolong
your reading time at night just to read the next
chapter. but you must at least be interested in
African politics and have an open mind.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ACHEBE IS BRILLIANT, Oct. 30 1998
By A Customer
Achebe is underrated in his ability to create an inspiring work of world literature. This story is truly brilliant.
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Anthills of the Savannah
Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe (Paperback - Oct. 7 1988)
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