Title: AKACHI ADIMORA-EZEIGBO: LIFE AND LITERATURE
Author: EZECHI ONYERIONWU
Publisher: UNIVERSITY PRESS PLC, IBADAN, NIGERIA
Reviewer: ROBERT OBIOHA
Ezechi Onyerionwu’s new book, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo: Life and Literature, is one of the latest additions to the ever growing genre of biographical writings in the country. The monumental work by Onyerionwu documents the life story, growing up, education, academic sojourn and literary activism of one of Nigeria’s prolific female writers, Prof. Theodora Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo. Although the book is essentially about Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s inspiring experiences, it also portrays some landmark historical events in the country such as colonialism, Christianity, independence, the Nigerian civil war, post-civil war reconstruction, reconciliation and rehabilitation, Nigerian politics as well as the upsurge in female writings and literary activisms in the country.
Without doubt, these themes, in one way or the other, have bearings on the life and literary activism of the subject of this work. The narrative is divided into 12 chapters, each dealing effectively with different themes of the story. Chapter One, “Beginnings, Background and Beyond” and Chapter Two, “The Custodian of a Tradition”, set the tone for the story with the birth of the subject, her village, her family history, her early education and her childhood experiences.
Apart from remembering being a “subdued child who was ready to be taught and ready to obey,” Akachi also can recall her mother “getting agitated because she felt Akachi needed more food, and might die if she continued to look slim and unfed” (p.18). Like other African children of her age, Akachi had great interest in moonlight stories, especially folk tales, epics, legends, and histories. Her biographer elaborates: “Akachi’s household was a storytelling one. She remembers that her father was never too busy with his high government position to, once in a while, convene exciting storytelling sessions. Her mother, a local historian of sorts, also knew how to weave together and deliver sumptuous tales—from the programmed adventures of animals to resounding supernatural conquests of humans and quasi-humans, and to the general everyday story with its own equally captivating dramatic ring” (p.22).
It is hardly surprising that the effect of this storytelling on young Akachi later reflected and bore fruits in her numerous creative works. This can possibly explain why literary critic, Susan Arndt, regards her novels and short stories as virtually written versions of ifo (p.22). There is no doubt that the African oral tradition of storytelling has great influence on most African writers on the continent, including Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo. The subject has great love for both Igbo and English language while in school. She is much at home with S. Ahamba’s Igbo primer, Azu Ndu and English readers like those from Charles Dickens, Daniel Dafoe, Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Joyce Cary, E.M. Foster, Graham Green, William Golding and others. Chinua Achebe is another influence on her literary development. In this wise, Akachi can be regarded as a literary “daughter” of Achebe (p.41).
Akachi read voraciously and usually excelled in spelling and writing. According to her: “My essays were always singled out in class and highlighted as very impressive. My teachers read them in class most times to challenge my classmates” (p.32). Her literary influences include African oral tradition and European literary tradition as well. Akachi right from secondary school knows her career direction. Even her teachers, Miss Metcalf and Miss Jolly, at Archdeacon Crowther Memorial Girls’ School, near Port Harcourt, would have been utterly surprised if her career direction had nothing to do with reading and writing. Her biographer quoted Akachi as saying “I had nurtured the dream of reading English because I wanted a career in journalism, either as a broadcaster or as someone in the television industry” (p.34).
One single event that changed the course of Akachi’s life, profession and vocation is the Nigerian civil war, otherwise known as the Biafran war of 1967-1970. Chapter Three of the book, which deals extensively with the “Scars of Biafra”,contains most of the historical family pictures used in the book. As a young child, Akachi heard the stories of the March 1916 cruel Uga punitive expedition by British colonial masters and the carnage of the Second World War but her first experience of actual war was the Nigerian civil war. Her experience of the war has great influence in her academic and literary activism till date.
Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo has written numerous journal articles on the Nigerian civil war. Her doctoral dissertation, Fact and Fiction in the Literature of the Nigerian Civil War, which has been published as a book, is based on the civil war narratives. She has written a novel, Roses and Bullets based on the events of the war as it affects ordinary people, especially the female protagonist, Ginika. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo has written numerous journal articles on the Nigerian civil war. This chapter reads like the history of the Nigerian civil war from pre-war Nigeria, the war period and the post-war period. Akachi’s biography is like a personal history of Nigeria, pre-independence, post-independence and now.
The book narrates also Akachi’s return to Nigeria experience after the war, her coming to Lagos and academic life and schooling in Ibadan for her PhD and her long sojourn in University of Lagos, the muse and her literary creativity and activism and other achievements. Scholars and students, especially those interested in Ezeigbo’s works, will benefit a lot from this book.