In the current issue of Transition, Chinua Achebe talks to David Chioni Moore and Analee Heath about fifty years of his legendary novel Things Fall Apart. It’s a fascinating, lively interview (not available online), in large part because Chioni Moore and Heath bring 20 different editions of the novel to their interview with Achebe, so there’s a lot to talk about: a half-century of author photos, blurbs, introductions, and, often most interestingly, book covers—some lovely, some uninspiring, and some terribly problematic.
“I’m not sure I have ever influenced any cover of any of my books,” Achebe says. “Publishers have their own sense of what and how they want to sell. I come in not as a buyer, but as somebody else, and I would not want to have any violent quarrels with them.”
Moving through the editions chronologically—beginning with the first Heinemann edition, from 1958—Chioni Moore and Heath eventually bring out a pretty shocking 1976 edition that features, as Chioni Moore puts it, “a shirtless African man raging with a bloody knife in front of a burning cross.”
“You know,” Achebe says, “quite frankly I don’t know what to make of this.”
They also touch on the editions Achebe names as favorites—the Anchor Books 50th anniversary edition, pictured above, and the 1992 Everyman’s Library edition—and ask what he expects to see on the cover of Things Fall Apart at 100.
I think that where we’re headed is the final realization that Africans are people: nothing more, nothing less. In another fifty years, I hope we would have gotten there, and that references to the exotic or the primitive or the Other will have gone—and that whatever is happening in Africa will be handled just as something happening in Australia, America or elsewhere. Because, actually, we’ve come a long way in a short time.