Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chike and the River

Chike and the River
by Chinua Achebe, 1966.

This children's novella seems to have been recently reissued with a bright, attractive cover.  It's a simple story, told in the style of boys' escapades and heroic entanglements with comic-book hoods.

But Achebe adds to it a hero, Chike, whose mixture of fear and bravery makes him immediately endearing; quick sketches of Nigerian life of the period, both country and city; and of course, a sprinkling of sayings and aphorisms that were a hallmark of his classic adult novels, Things Fall Apart (1958) and No Longer at Ease (1960).

As I read the book I couldn't help but think of another author, half a world away and a generation earlier: R. K. Narayan and Swami and Friends (1935).  

Like Swami, in Chike, behind the deceptively simple boyhood facade lies a deeper story.  It is only sketched, but it is nonetheless crucial: the migration from the village to the city, which would be a central preoccupation for African writers for at least a generation; the mixed blessings of modernity; and the inescapable pull of the larger world, across the River.

Mar 2012