A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe is the story of an idealistic young man Odili, who naively enters into politics. This novel is satirical in its nature. The setting and situations of the novel are loosely based on real-life events that took place in Nigeria, which is the author’s native place.
Odili is a promising young teacher. The story begins when Odili is reunited with his former teacher, now the Minister of Culture, Chief Hon Nanga. Though his methods are questionable and corrupt, he has a good reputation among the people. As Odili lives with Chief Nanga, he realizes that although Nanga pretends to be moralistic and egalitarian, he lives a luxurious lifestyle by partaking in corrupt government activities. After this realization, Odili decides to plot a revenge plan against Nanga.
Odili is determined to ruin Nanga’s personal and professional life. This plan includes seducing Nanga’s young fiance Edna, but they end up falling in love eventually. Odili meets his old friend Max, and his wife Eunice and joins their political party. He decides to run against Nanga for the position of the Minister of Culture. Things start getting out of hand once he full-fledgedly enters the political realm. Odili is naive and idealistic in the beginning, but slowly he begins to realize the way things run that makes him doubt himself.
Corruption in politics is the central theme of the novel. Someone like Nanga, who uses his position of power to reap the benefits of a luxurious lifestyle for himself, all the while preaching about social equality convincingly to the people of his country. Odili is an idealist, and he has a strong sense of right and wrong. As he starts exploring politics, he has to use questionable methods that make him doubt his own moral compass. It blurs the lines a little bit between what is right and what is wrong when it comes to the greater good. He finds himself swayed once he starts getting a little control and power.
In the first chapter itself, it is mentioned that the unnamed country of the African continent has recently gained its independence. Since the book was published in 1966, the idea of independence on the African continent was still fairly new after years of colonization. The book does talk about the after-effects of colonization on African countries. It is dealt with subtly, and it is kind of difficult to explain it here. It talks about the western influence on the identity and culture of people in postcolonial Africa.
The book is first-person narration, done well simply. The tone of the story, the settings, and the writing keep you hooked from start to finish. It is an interesting political satire, and it hits all the right notes in an understated way. I didn’t know anything about the military coup in Nigeria around the time this story was written, but after reading about it, I realized that the climax of the story, bears a resemblance to that event.
A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe is an interesting and well-written novel. It is fast-paced from the beginning. The characters evolve as the story progresses, come a full circle with how things end up for them in the end. It is a must-read.
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