The first short story in Charters’ collection is by Chinua Achebe, winner of the Man Booker International Prize on June 2007 in honor of his literary career. From the forward:
The story ‘Civil Peace’ dramatizes Achebe’s awareness of catastrophic disturbances in the lives of ordinary people in war-torn Nigeria. He believes that Africans have always lived in what he calls “the crossroads of cultures.”
We still do today, but when I was a boy one could see and sense the peculiar quality and atmosphere of it more clearly. I am not talking about all that rubbish we hear of the spiritual void and mental stresses that Africans are supposed to have, or the evil forces and irrational passions prowling through Africa’s heart of darkness. We know the racist mystique behind a lot of that stuff… What I do remember is a fascination for the ritual and the life on the other arm of the crossroads.
I must confess to having never heard of Chinua Achebe before reading this short story. How oblivious I feel! The story itself is a scant four pages long, easily devoured and yet enigmatic for all its simplicity. It tells the tale of Jonathon Iwegbu and his family, and their efforts to recreate their lives and fortune after the Civil War in Nigeria. Jonathon at first gives taxi rides on his bicycle, then opens a palm-wine bar, and finally collects his egg-rasher money for turning in what rebel currency he had in his possession.
This activity and prosperity attracts the attention of a band of thieves, who come calling that night and demand from without his window that he give up his fortune lest he compel them to enter his home and take it by force. He finally does so, and in the morning shrugs stoically.
“I count it as nothing,” he told his sympathizers, his eyes on the rope he was tying. “What is egg-rasher? Did I depend on it last week? Or is it greater than other things that went with the war? I say let egg-rasher perish in the flames! Let it go where everything else has gone. Nothing puzzles God.”
And so ends this seemingly simple tale. But is it really that simple? Further consideration gives rise to incredible moments and deeper themes…
What is the significance of ‘Nothing puzzles God’?
What is the main conflict of Civil Peace?
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