Perhaps it is to join in the global acclaim of a great novel that I write this. Perhaps it is for something else; a celebration of a personal story founded in the footprints of a great story.
Indeed, I prefer the word ‘story’ to ‘novel’; perhaps because it sounds affiliated to a more sensitive narration of the condition of human existence.
I feel somewhat guilty starting this with mere speculations—‘perhaps.’ I feel guilty because the whole glimmer about TFA – you know what – is not a speculation, neither is the story one of great speculations. It is a story with far-reaching insistence on reality. I’d put that on a stick on paper and place on my computer – a story with a far-reaching insistence on reality.
Yet, though condemning my speculative beginning, I return to it. I return because I have to choose between two options. Do I write this in celebration or as a result of influence? No answer appears forthcoming. Indeed, it might be a combined effect of the two speculations, building up to a momentous rendering in honour – which makes it unimportant whether this was written for celebration or as a result of influence.
And so, why could I have written in celebration? It is for a reason so obvious. For a story told half a century ago to remain so contemporary is sufficient reason. For a story whose characters remain alive in a world with so much potential to muffle them is also enthralling. For a story to have relevance so astounding that it is insignificant that the lines are covered with Igbo words and expressions. Such a story deserves celebration, indeed.
What is more, 50 years, as my mother would say, is not 50 days. Thereupon, it is reasonable to align with Habila and measure time, try to find that centre-string that joins history and posterity. True, it would be worthwhile to do that – measure the time of TFA. Finding that it is a story without a centre, that establishes a parallel between the history of the 18th and 19th century and the posterity of the 20th and 21st. That, without doubt, is a celebratory way to look at TFA – measure it’s time. Measure its relevance in time; and finally, hang it in a space called tomorrow (or forever) where its profound relevance would be unending and indestructible.
If I daresay, that is a way to look at stories. Not ‘40 Million Copies Sold’ or ‘#1 New York Times Bestseller,’ but its ability to be measured in time: say, 50 years for a start. And I propose, a story should not be called one, until it can be measured in such way. That is what is worth celebrating. Think of Chekhov, Tolstoy, Rushdie, Austen, Miller, Orwell, Hemingway – and then add Achebe.
Second, why could this have been written as a result of influence? In 2001, two friends and myself began to write what we called ‘The Critical Stage.’ That year we had read TFA for our mid-secondary school exams. And sure, it did influence the said novel – characterization, style and so forth. I still have a rewritten copy, the first draft having been misplaced by our English teacher.
I assume that though that was a childish move, it is not in the larger context. By ‘context’ I mean nothing egregious. I simply want to think that we are not alone in being tremendously influenced. The African literary landscape is coloured by those influenced by TFA. Indeed, the man-behind-the-story is referred to as the granddaddy of African literature. Whoever is the daddy?
My point is simple. Any writer who fails to influence is probably trying a slingshot to nowhere, a non-remarkable sojourn in the ocean of the pen. Achebe has succeeded in this, and more than I can say, he is a writer. I do not join in the assertion that writers are hard to define. Influence must be one sincere way to measure a writer – and measure time too.
I find that I am exaggeratingly influenced by TFA. True, I consult the classic when I want to review my stories. So do not be surprised to find patterns of similitude in my forthcoming works. Such is good – being influenced by tremendous success; a seed of goodliness which would not remain the way it was planted. In a dream I’m having – dreams do come true – my works would have more acclaim than TFA! Reason – I’m influenced by TFA.
Salman Rushdie’s words seem accurate for a final paragraph; “by using what is old and adding to it some new thing of our own, we make what is new.”