Is Adichie Like Achebe? Be Not Deceived by the Alili By Okezie J.S. Nwoka

By Okezie J.S. Nwoka

The Alili is a centipede; a centipede has one hundred legs. That is what it claims. The claim won the acceptance of nearly every animal in the verdant forest, giving her the benefit of an unspoken doubt.  All of the different animals believed her, save one group.  All of the animals were deceived, except for the shrewd and perceptive Tortoise.  When the Alili pranced around the market square with a foul pretentiousness, singing “Look at the wonderful me, and my one hundred legs,” the Tortoise yelled out, “Turn yourself over so that we, your kindred, may count your legs.”  The Alili was shocked, and then angered by the Tortoise challenge.  She knew she could not maintain her façade, so she ran away and became silent for a period of time.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an alili.  The question, then, becomes “what is her façade?” How has she deceived us, her kindred?  To answer these questions, one must examine how Adichie has crafted and marketed her literary career.  I humbly submit that Adichie has stolen the legacy of a literary giant for the sake of her own personal self-advancement.  Adichie has hijacked the literary memory of Chinua Achebe.  She has done this through the construction of a parasitic Achebe Complex that is made evident through her words and through her work.  From the onset, Adichie has claimed to have a special connection with Achebe, yet a critical analysis of her writing tells a different story.  She finds significance in the fact that she once lived in the same home that Achebe did.  However, what good is that fact when her work continually misses the mark— the mark set by Achebe’s high standards?  Instead of standing on the shoulders of this literary giant and paying him a true homage, she tries to topple him… time and time again.   
 
There are three ways that Adichie does this egregious thing.  Firstly, she inappropriately deploys literary devices.  Second, her characters lack a developed consciousness.  Finally, the morals of her stories are not prophetic enough given the historical moment in which she tells them.  Let us begin counting the legs of the Alili.
 
The opening line of Adichie’s novel Purple Hibiscus reads, “Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère.”  The language here is deliberate.  It is intentional.  Adichie is invoking the spirit of Achebe, and placing it in the typeface of her own text.  However, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer… the centre cannot hold.”  Adichie does not hear the wisdoms of Achebe, and as result the works fails.  Take as one example the two writers’ use of folklore.  Achebe uses the Igbo folklore of Tortoise to speak to the System of Reality (as James Baldwin would call it) of Okonkwo, his protagonist in Things Fall Apart.  Because Tortoise is egocentric and places his desires before those of others, he suffers a tragic fate; his smooth shell is shattered.  Okonkwo too behaves in that manner, and he suffers too.  He commits suicide
 
Achebe’s poetic reflective-ness between the folklore and the novel’s characters, has no home in Adichie’s work.  She too has a story about Tortoise in Purple Hibiscus, and that story lacks the poetic reflective-ness of which I speak.  Her story of Tortoise cracking his shell is one governed by blackmail and greed.  Because Tortoise desires to survive a famine, he blackmails Dog so that he can indirectly obtain food from Dog’s mother.  Greed takes hold of Tortoise to the point where he deceives Dog’s mother, so as to eat an even larger portion.  The question now is, “which character in her novel has the tendency to both blackmail and be greedy?”  There is none; not one.
 
The second problem with Adichie’s work, as it relates to her Achebe Complex, is that her characters lack a developed consciousness.  Achebe’s characters act within their surroundings, speaking with history and culture and Nature.  They try to make sense of their System of Reality and imagine new ways of being, developing possibilities across space and time.  Take Obi Okonkwo in No Longer at Ease as an example.  His experiences while studying in England, cause him to rethink Igbo understandings of being and recreate himself as a “modern man”.  He defies the wisdom of the elders who raised money for him to study abroad, causing a generational schism in his family.  He also laments the corruption rampant in a newly independent Nigeria, and is constantly negotiating how to “be” within the borders of a nation defiled.  He then engages in forbidden love, expanding the possibility of the privileged sharing a romance with the outcast.  All of these factors make the moment when Clara, his lover, reveals her identity as an osu both powerful and power-filled.  It is in his reaction.  Instead of Obi jumping to embrace Clara to touch her and to kiss her, Achebe tells us that he was silent.
 
Adichie’s characters do not do this.  They simply react to the forceful hand of their writer, not living in the moment of their literary existence.  Take for example Ugwu in Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun.  In most of the novel, he is portrayed as an incredibly docile boy sent to work for a university professor and his wife.  We see him live in the shadows of the home, as a lowly servant.  We see him play with, feed, and protect Baby, the couple’s daughter.  We see him as an innocent.  Then something happens.  Ugwu is kidnapped by Biafran forces to fight, and without any notice at all the Ugwu that we know flips. He becomes a fearless soldier and a heartless rapist.  This moment, unlike that of Obi Okonkwo’s, is strange and bizarre.  One sees the same thing in Purple Hibiscus.  Every reader of Adichie must ask themselves this question, “Did it “make sense” for Jaja to protect his mother by turning himself in to the police?”  In my opinion, it made no sense.  Adichie forced that decision upon Jaja; Jaja did not act on his own volition.  The novel does not provide any signal, not even a whisper, to illustrate and contextualize Jaja’s System of Reality.  As a consequence, when Jaja sacrifices himself, it seems as though he does so as a slave of the text.  .  
 
The third problem with Adichie is that her stories lack the prophetic gravitas necessary to challenge the social problems of her contemporary moment.  She writes just to write.  Now, there is no problem with writing for the sake of writing.  In fact, doing so can lead to new and innovative literary expressions.  However, if one chooses to write that way, one ought not claim to be something else.  Do not be a puddle calling yourself an ocean.  Achebe’s work was and still is a critical component of human liberation.  In his text Home and Exile, he writes, “I did not really want to see the score of narratives between me and my detractor settled by recourse to power, other than the innate power of stories themselves.”   He knew that freedom could not be attained through the barrel of a gun, but through the broad exchange of human narratives.  Achebe’s writing prophetically spoke to a historical moment filled with holocausts and wars.  It was a modernist moment, yet his writing transcended that moment by speaking to something larger, something bettered.  The battles of today have new morphologies and writers writing on the shoulders of Achebe must adapt.  Writing prophetically in a post-modernist moment requires humbling one’s narrative for the sake of allowing other narratives to exist, no matter how “bad” they are.  It is a game of convincing and cajoling, not one of force.  The meta-narrative has been damned.
 
The question, I now ask is, “How could the literary community even consider Adichie to be Achebe’s protégé when she does not speak prophetically in the post-modernist moment”?  In a CNN interview, Adichie talks of banning Western stories like Cinderella, banning them as if this were the Third Reich.  This deeply contradicts Achebe’s ideological position, a position that allowed for all stories to exist.  Adichie’s novels are not about making the world better.  They are about selling themselves.  A friend of mine tried to convince me of the opposite by defending Adichie’s contributions to feminism, particularly as it relates to Nigerian women.  I responded to her with the following:
 
There are so many problems with Adichie’s work I do not even know where to begin.  Suffice to say middle-upper class Nigerian women have a system of reality that differs drastically from poor Nigerian women.  How, then, does Chimamanda dare to speak on behalf of those impoverished women?  How dare she?
 
I would not dare criticize any woman’s right to share her narrative.  But when there is an attempt to [use] that narrative to eclipse another’s narrative, there is a PROBLEM.  Adichie did not begin anything!  Read the works of Yvonne Vera of Zimbabwe and you will see an African woman who understood feminism and womanhood.  Read Butterfly Burning; your eyes will open.  To say that African [women] have not [begun] a dialogue about their womanhood pre-Adichie is simply ahistorical.
 
It is here that you may be asking yourselves, “Who the hell is this kid?”  Well, I am an Igbo-American who wants to continue in the tradition of prophetic liberation writers like Chinua Achebe, Toni Morrison, Yvonne Vera, and others.  A few months ago the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa extended an invitation to me to join their community of writers as a Masters in Fine Arts student.  And I am thrilled.  I am also fearful, fearful that the greatest literary minds can be quickly deceived— tricked into thinking that something is,  what it is not.  I have been consoled by one of my favorite African writers, a man who I consider to be my literary father, a man who said that I should not worry about such things.  Still, the treatment of Black literature by the West concerns me, and I hope there can be more dialogue centered on resolving this issue once and for all, once and for everyone.    
 
I admire Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie a great deal.  She is, in fact, one of the reasons I applied to MFA programs in the first place.  The way she draws parallels to Achebe is the way I draw parallels to her.  She was born on September 15th, which is three days before my birthday.  She was born in 1977 and I was born in 1988, i.e. repeating digits.  We are the same shade of brown.  We both have parents who pushed us to study medicine.  The list goes on.  Still, I refuse to let my love for Chimamanda jeopardize the fate of African literature and the future of my own stories.  I do not know if Chimamanda ever met Chinua Achebe.  I have.  As a student of Brown University and a concentrator of its Africana Studies Department, I have interacted with Chinua Achebe several times.  The first time I told him my name, he let out an “Oooooohhh Okezie!” as if we had met before, as if we were old friends.  I remember that moment, because it was the moment that I decided to try to continue his project, the project of our ancestors, the project of being free.  Don’t you want that? Don’t you want that Chimamanda?  Let me count your legs.  Something tells me that with time, you will have one hundred.  
 

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On the Angry Nigerian Igboman Critic of Americanah Book.

First I will say that I am educated enough both from the Harvard of Nigeria UNN and then to Howard University in USA. To say that I have taken it for granted to understand all that is written in English language is to say that I understand the grudge of the above writer on Adichie's Americanah.I am not sure what school he attended and what his study was but all got lost in his "self-filled understanding" or rather misunderstanding of what the writer was saying. First, Adichie did not write for you to understand her view point her own way. Just read slowly with clear and open mind and you will. Or wait the for next generation.
Mazi Inno Chimah(Ochi Agha Oma,Arondizuogu)Germantown Maryland,USA.
Today Nov.25th.2013.
Author Soldiers of Democracy: Our June 12 Struggle in USA.(Due soon)

To Mr. Okezie on Jaja and Ugu's Character

Afta Jaja n Kambili visited their Aunt, their life changed. d writer was able 2 show us that they both tasted freedom in their Aunty's house. Somewhere in that Novel Jaja was even angry for not protecting his mum he even compared himself to, how manly and protective his little cousin was. I think it was okay he stood for his mum and went to jail. On Ugu's character, the writer was trying to tell us that Biafran solders were raping their own people. 2)Ugu had lustful desires for many girls in that book 3)He never wanted to look weak before his mate. And before the scene of the rape he'd undergone Military training. These are things you consider. I think you were blinded from this fact because you want to compare Chimamanda to Achebe these two are different writers. Conjuring the spirit of Achebe in a work whether deliberate or not is not bad in my opinion. when I held that book and read the first line I laughed because I felt Achebe in those lines but these are different writers.

African Writers

African Writers should stop public criticisms,self uplifting and making unencouragible expressions for the rapid development of work of art in the entire continent.Let us imbibe the lessons of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe so that we can be great and successful writers
. I'm a playwright too.

Chinua Achebe was and is

Chinua Achebe was and is inspiring. Ms. Chimamanda is possibly a good read (although I was very much underwhelmed by Half a Yellow Sun) and that's that. I hope that with time she grows to inherit the stature of Chinua Achebe. I think the writer of this article makes some very good and well observed points. And my view is, that Achebe's fiction, though universal, was a very good attempt at establishing the foundation for a truly African fiction and he was not pandering to the chattering classes of the West. Unfortunately, I can't say the same thing for Ms. Chimamanda's fiction. Long live African fiction!

Great article

Okezie, I am deeply impressed. This is a brilliant article. You did your homework to a fault. It is true that Adichie's work lack what you called 'prophetic gravitas'; they are almost popular fiction. I think she knows that. The problem is she that she seems to be finding a balance between two worlds. That said, I think Achebe catered for a different audience and if Adichie were to meet all your objections she would not be as popular as she is. The taste of the average reader isn't as shard and shrewd as you would think - they just want a good plot.

The are nameless writers out there who pay too much attention to quality, not popular need. They don't sell much copies. So, in literary pursuit try to factor in the consumer and remember taste changes with time. The attempt to fit perfectly into construct , so to say, can jeopardise sales.

Idiot

Okezie , you are simply an idiot.

Just because Chimamanda is

Just because Chimamanda is the recipient of such great accolades doesn't mean she is a fraud. One day you will be on the top by God's grace and I hope someone doesn't try knock you down but that is inevitably what happens. I love her stories and she brings African/Nigerian story telling to the for front once more the way that Chinua Achebe did. I think all the great writers who you mentioned are great in their own right. Knocking one down doesn't deminish the quality of thier work.

Let the readers and critics decide about the ranking of the author. I respect your opinion as an educated writer who has had many great teachers.

LOL @ not a "true Igbo".

LOL @ not a "true Igbo". That's part of the problem..the assignment of wisdom to age. AGE DOES NOT EQUATE TO WISDOM. If someone has not optimally engaged with their surroundings, being older only means they’ve seen more sunrises and sunsets. Holding onto traditions for the sake of maintaining what those before did is problematic because their problems become your problems. Doing more of the same keeps the same results..and these turn into the same individuals complaining that they have not yet seen change. I disagree. Elders are just older. I know people that are foolish at 60...and granted the opportunity to bask within that mindset as well as breeze through because of the respect they get from the mentality you've referenced. No thanks.I don't buy into that nonsense at all. High esteem for what? There are elders that believe slavery should have held up..so should we keep that up for them to be comfortable? Out of respect? It's a ridiculous mindset if you ask me.

Okezie

Please write your own books: novels, short stories and poems. I haven't been privileged to read your own work or see your own contribution to the body of African literature.

WHAT A SHAME

Mr. Okezie Nwoka,
I took pains to go through your ill-conceived attempt to rubbish the works of Chimamanda. If it were to be a constructive criticism, I would not bother to comment, but I consider it a cheap way of making yourself relevant. It is more like a cook advising a veteran on the arts of warfare.
You enrolled on MFA program to enable you become a writer. May I advise you that story tellers are not made in classrooms but born; you only need education to equip yourself with the weapon of words with which to convey your message. You must have an intrinsic gift of story telling before you become a good writer of fiction; so I advise you to look for your gifted area of calling and direct your energy towards it instead of acquiring MFA to become a 'great writer'.
As a student of MFA, one would expect an intellectual masterpiece from you but you have ended up showing how shallow your reasoning is.

putting off another's candle wouldn't make yours to shine brighter.
Thank you.

Its really good to think

Its really good to think differently, a friend read half of a yellow sun and told me it was unputdownnable, I read it and felt the same way. She brings out a lot in her writings that makes one feel like you are living with her characters, its amazing.

I would also love to enlighten you that Adichie did not only know Achebe but lived in the same university of Nigeria Nsukka community with him, it is a very small community and they all know each other very well. Her dad was a prof there and so was Achebe.

Wish you luck and waiting for your book, hope you bring in something different altogether.

How you say it matters!

It is important to evaluate any literary work for the purposes of providing feedback to the writer, and generating dialogue and discussion on a writer's style. The aim of a critic is to edify its readers and the writer in question and not disparage the writer or leave the reader with a sour thirst in their mouth.

In that sense, this critic misses its mark. The overall negativity of this critic leads one to wonder as to the motives of Okezie. The conspicuous bashing of Adichie's works makes this write up seems like the predictions of unscrupulous bible wielding pastors. Such belligerent tone is unnecessary and counterproductive for anyone with good motives.

Rather, a mature critic laces unfavorable reviews with positive judgements for readers to see the big picture instead of a narrow narrative.

I agree.....

Evil finally departs.
Frustrated in old age and condemned in exile.
Died, away from the Biafra he professed to love but too scared to reside!
Died, surrounded by descendants of a people that enslaved his ancestors
centuries ago.

Evil, charged by bitterness
and illuminated by hatred,
is extinguished
by the righteous spear
of judgment that came his way.

Ever at home
in a world nurtured with his lies, it blossomed into his truth!

Uncrippled
to be a spirit of the night sitting at the right hand side of Lucifer,
his soul is finally free to explore depths
of his new world!
Never a penny received from the fruits of libel,
Never another word written from the juice of libel,

Sage of Ikenne go back to sleep!
The reach of the god of Nemesis is broad, swift and deep.
The sun has set on the beast of the east.

Wonderful Article

This is a wonderful article. The writer has portrayed signs of psychological awareness in the literary hemisphere. Adichie needs to stop living in Achebe's shadow and move on. She onced lived in the same house Achebe lived in. As a child, Achebe was her hero. One fact nobody can take away from her is her ability to achieve her aim in life as a writer in a remarkable way.

I totally agree with you.

I totally agree with you. Personally i believe the author's writing has crossed that fine line between objective and balanced criticism to that of a subjective bitter housewife, whose husband has denied her a new lace or "abada". And personally, i don't ever remember Adichie claiming to be as good as Achebe, if anything her expressions about Achebe has been one of awe and deep respect. Whatever comparisons are been made between both are actually done by her fans and not she herself. So one would expect the author(as intelligent as he sounds) to know these things. Therefore the only explanation i can find for this short-sighted write up is simply self-promotion.

chimanda

I really can't understand why some people should attack Chimanda Adichie. Leave the girl alone. So after Achebe nobody/No Igbo person should write a book? I see envy here.

Okezie Is Right!

This writer is right about Adichie in so many things he writes. I read her books and listen to her interviews and I do not see any reason to compare her to Professor Chinua Achebe (now late). Yet she keeps using the name Achebe to climb as a writer and to make her readers think she is something when she is not that thing/person. Congrats to Okezie who has written this piece courageously.

A good critique by many standards

I recently watched Adichie on Channel 4's news in the UK where she talked about her writing style and upcoming movie adaptation. Her persona came across as that of a lot of other thoughtful individuals with deep emotions to inspire their writing..Not a novel quality anymore I would say, but deserves commendation since she's one of the few who found a literary voice and fortune also smiled upon. Perception is the keyword here and I hate to think of the reception her writing would have received if it was written under a pseudonym that escapes the common construct. Much as I admire her as a lady who cracked the glass ceiling,I think you (Okezie) have spotted something that is in plain sight yet hidden to many professed writers in your critique and that deserves a bigger commendation and encouragement. In itself, it is a special thing that can take you beyond the everyday writer seeking chance! I do look forward to the day I will see your writing again. All the best young 'un.

@ Okezie J.S. Nwoka

For your information Chiamanda has met Achebe, If you care to read and watch all her interviews you would know she has, because I have read in one of her interviewed mentioned she met Achebe at a conference.

Besides, it is good to have your own opinion on her writings, and you are free to be critical of her but others will differ, she has carved a niche for herself through numerous presentations writings and awards.

I think all these critique about she Chiamanda is just for you to elicit discussion on the subject of her writings... Besides, a shrewd a way of making yourself to be heard, in other words looking for popularity.

Nonsensical Braggadocio?

This is an attempt by a non-entity in seeking attention while stroking their ego. This is such crass and crap writing. Did you have to demean and disrespect Adichie to promote your own "work". I use the word work very loosely here. But then I see that you're an "Igbo-American" with no sense of being a true "Igbo", who hold elders in high esteem. And if you wanted to act out the "American" in you, at least you would initially reach out to Adichie to discuss this instead of posting on SR like she has taken your daily bread.
And then initially I thought it was a normal critique until you turned self-worshipping and narcissistic in your last paragraph.
Dude, just remember that you never have to pull anyone down to get up.

OKEZIE DISCOVERS A FRAUD!

@okezie, I can not thank you enough for this exposé on the literacy savviness of the proponent of your write up. Not wanting to join issue with anyone, I dare say you have scaled off a few notches that have hidden the lack of originality of our renown author who truly has gained ascendancy in the literary world by being Chinua Achebe's copycat. I have reviewed her materials and found out a vacuum in originality of ideas,writing style and perspective. I think the young lady is an overrated compensation of our generation to the African literary world.

@ The Author (Okezie J.S. Nwoka)

For your information Chiamanda has met Achebe, If you care to read and watch all her interviews you would know she has, because I have read in one of her interviewed mentioned she met Achebe at a conference.

Besides, it is good to have your own opinion on her writings, and you are free to be critical of her but others will differ, she has carved a niche for herself through numerous presentations writings and awards.

I think all these critique about she Chiamanda is just for you to elicit discussion on the subject of her writings... Besides, a shrewd a way of making yourself to be heard, in other words looking for popularity.

@ The Author (Okezie J.S. Nwoka)

For your information Chiamanda has met Achebe, If you care to read and watch all her interviews you would know she has, because I have read in one of her interviewed mentioned she met Achebe at a conference.

Besides, it is good to have your own opinion on her writings, and you are free to be critical of her but others will differ, she has caved a niche for herself through numerous presentations wrtings and awards.

I think all these critique about she Chiamanda is just for you to elicit discussion on the subject of her writings... Besides, a shrewed a way of making yourself to be heard, in otherwords looking for popularity.

I have read with interest

I have read with interest your article. I admire both Achebe and Adichie. But I consider that yours is a gratuitous critique.
You accuse her of emulating Achebe, and then you blame her for not following Achebe's pattern.
Although I can agree with some of your opinions, I consider that there is a certain inconsistency on them.

Comparing anyone with Achebe is just not fair.

Okezie, you have done

Okezie, you have done yourself an incalculable amount of disservice by spewing this venom which does nothing but essay your mediocrity. As a 24-year old, you will benefit from seeking to advance yourself first and make your mark in your chosen field of endeavour before seeking to tear others apart - particularly when such an effort is so blatantly incompetent, self-defeating and embarrassingly shallow!

“Oooooohhh Okezie!” The Igbo-American

Okezie is not a Nigerian-American; he is an Igbo-American. Truly you are a disciple of Chinua Achebe and I should think that this is the difference between you and Adichie.

My friend if your intention

My friend if your intention is to jam the heads of these two great writers together,you have met you waterloo!If you do not like her writings write your own.
Stop criticizing for no statues have been erected for critique!

Young man, stop this criticism! (2)

Odia Ofeimun wrote a 57-page senile work titled "The Poet Lied" merely to criticize the world-acclaimed poet/playwright, JP Clark.

Theo Vincent at over 80 years never wrote a single book, yet in Nigeria and among the so-called writers, he is a critic. In the late 1980s he hosted a TV programme on NTA wherein he critiqued Nigerian books. One day he took on the late Prof. Nkem Nwankwo's satire, "My Mercedes is Bigger than Yours", describing it in very poor language. Nkem was resident in the US and someone sent him the NTA script. He literarily whipped Vincent in his rebuttal in the DAILY TIMES newspaper.

My advice to the so-called critics is that they write their own books. Stop criticizing other works as you are not imbued with greater wisdom and intellectual acumen much more than those you criticize. All of us cannot write from the same perpectives as our perceptions and experiences always differ!

Young man, stop this criticism! (1)

First, this writer is wrong. Adiche met Achebe. She said so that when it was her turn to give her speech at a conference, Achebe voiced words of encouragement, "Jisie ike." Adiche wrote a beautiful elegy in Igbo on Achebe's death.

I believe this young Okezie, just 24 years, has some axe to grind with Adiche. I urge him to write a comparative analysis of the novels of Achebe and Adiche rather than laying unwarranted accusation that Adiche is claiming to be of the same stature as Achebe.

The attitude of Okezie displayed here is one reason I dislike the so-called literary critics. The fag, Odia Ofeimun (Dele Awogbeoba on SR) and Theo Vincent, formerly a Professor in the Dept of English, UNILAG, immediately come to mind.

On Adichie and Achebe

Okezie J.S. Nwoka,you may indulge yourself,I think you are a man who can squeeze water out of stone.