When Chinua Achebe went to Scandinavia in 1988

It is striking that that the topics we discussed in those days with Achebe are still here and more unabashedly direct and bona-fide.

Achebe in Sweden, 1988.

In October-November 1988, Chinua Achebe travelled through Scandinavia to launch the translations of his novel Anthills of the Savannah into Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, and to meet readers, writers and academics, most of them well-known with his works, some not at all. He treated each group with the same respect and with inquisitive curiosity. ‘Why do you think so?’– ‘Yes, interesting, I never thought about that.’ The talks and the conversations that they generated are now available for a larger audience.

Re-reading the booklet Travelling: Chinua Achebe in Scandinavia, Swedish Writers in Africa that I did almost a quarter of a century ago (1990), it strikes me not only that the topics we discussed in those days with Achebe are still here, but that they were then more unabashedly direct and bona-fide. And also with what remarkable intuitive presence he communicates his thoughts. Meeting him in this text is listening to him; a voice captive, humorous, interactive, intelligent. I thank my university library (Umeå) for consenting to digitalize this bygone text. You can download it here (pdf). It is Achebe revisiting Sweden, and all of us!

The second part of the book, a sketchy overview of Swedish travel writers with both imperial, self-reflexive and oppositional perspectives of Africa, serves as a narrative foil for the first part with Achebe negotiating and mediating his views to the listeners.

Photo: Chinua Achebe on a bench in Umeå, Sweden, on 19 October 1988. Photographer: Roland Berggren, Västerbotten-Kuriren.

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