My earliest encounter with Chinua Achebe was not the usual “suspect”; his trailblazing work, Things Fall Apart. That came a bit later. I had my earliest encounter with Africa’s greatest writer, with Chike And The River. It was set in Onitsha, against the backdrop of the majestic River Niger.
I had grown up literally on that river’s banks and learnt to swim in it; saw it carry away several people; ate from its rich resource of fish and turtle; witnessed how its peoples traded on huge canoes and boats and even remember vividly today, mythical tales about the powers of a river which dominated the lives of its peoples from the Futa Djallon right into the Nigerian creeks.
Achebe’s extraordinary power as a storyteller speaking to children, created a remarkable sense of drama and excitement when I first read the work in 1972.
The fact that he was talking about our great river, but setting his store against a human experience in the sprawling market town of Onitsha, far removed from the laid back reality of Jebba, made it even more compelling for my young mind.