Civil Peace by Chinua Achebe, 1971
The magic trick:
Ending at the beginning
End of the month, start of the week. We’re off to a month in England beginning tomorrow. But no sense in letting a Monday go empty. So here’s a bonus trip to Nigeria with Chinua Achebe.
The opening paragraph establishes our protagonist’s gratitude for the end of civil war. But the predominant takeaway for the reader is not happiness; it’s a realization of just how horrendous the war has left things. Jonathan’s gratitude includes relief that he only lost one of his four children in the conflict.
So, with that tragic tone set, we move with Jonathan from civil war to civil peace. The story’s journey soon makes it very clear that there isn’t much difference. Jonathan winds up falling back on the same kind of gratitude in the end.
And that’s quite a trick on Achebe’s part.
Jonathan Iwegbu counted himself extraordinarily lucky. “Happy survival!” meant so much more to him than just a current fashion of greeting old friends in the first hazy days of peace. It went deep to his heart. He had come out of the war with five inestimable blessings – his head, his wife Maria’s head, and the heads of three out of their four children. As a bonus he also had his old bicycle – a miracle too but naturally not to be compared to the safety of hive human heads.
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