In his novels and essays, Achebe reminds us of some unpalatable leftovers of the white man's burden. A Nigerian who writes in English, his career parallels his homeland's birth pains and tumultuous early history. He discovered the magic of words and his own literary voice in the final years of British rule in West Africa. Even as he was publishing his early novels, such as the remarkable "Things Fall Apart," so, too, did his newly independent homeland come apart. In the 1960s, Nigeria was racked by civil war.
In the West, he notes, Joseph Conrad's novels are celebrated as some of the finest achievements of the 20th Century. Read "Heart of Darkness" with an open mind, though, and you will see that Conrad was a racist, Achebe argues. Conrad's deprecatory attitudes toward blacks reinforced the mythology of the black man's inferiority that was colonialism's ideological underpining.