Chinua Achebe's masterly novel concerns three powerful Africans. They are drawn on the dust-cover as three green bottles, from the English song: 'If one green bottle should accident'ly fall ...' One is the President of an African state, generally known as His Excellency, though his old schoolmates remember him as Sam. Another is Ikem Osidi, editor of the National Gazette, a fiery journalist and admired poet. At school, Ikem was considered 'the brightest', but Sam was the cricket captain and the 'social paragon'. Sam went to Sandhurst and achieved the Presidency through a military coup. The third schoolfellow holds a rank midway between Ikem and His Excellency. This is Chris Oriko, former editor of the National Gazette, now promoted as the Honourable Commissioner for information, meeting His Excellency frequently and sometimes being ordered to pass on instructions to the recalcitrant Ikem. The three have known one another for twenty-five years, from the day when they 'first met as new boys of 13 or 14 at Lord Lugard College'. Nigeria is suggested by the name of Lugard, but Achebe has set his story in an imaginary state, called Kangan, smaller than Nigeria. There is a general feeling that these three schoolfellows ought not to be working closely together, resenting one another. Lord Lugard boys should be lonely leaders, living in isolation like District Commissioners, educating or governing the common people.
LRB 15 October 1987 | PDF Download