[(essay date October 1993 ) In the following essay, Kanaganayakam compares and contrasts Achebe's narrative technique in Anthills of the Savannah to that of his earlier works.]
Twenty-one years after the publication of A Man of the People (1966), Chinua Achebe published Anthills of the Savannah, perhaps his most enigmatic and complex work to date. The years separating these two works have been significant ones in the life of the author, for they entailed a deep concern with political turmoil, disillusionment with economic and cultural life, loss of friends and property, and an undying faith in the ultimate destiny of his country. All these sentiments find expression in the short stories, poems, and essays published in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in his work of non-fiction, The Trouble with Nigeria (1984). It is thus not surprising that the novel that followed this period of upheaval (and the author's concomitant silence as a novelist) should be different in many ways, although the thematic preoccupations of the previous novels still persist. What has changed is the attitude to a historical process, and that in turn has necessitated a more experimental form, one that transcends the referentiality of his earlier works and lends itself to greater complexity and syncreticity of vision.
Responses to the novel have varied from unqualified admiration to disappointment and scepticism. Emmanuel Ngara, for instance, speaks of the author soaring "to the heights of literary artistry" (128), and Elleke Boehmer claims that Achebe's "new vision is manifested in the strategic gender configurations of his central characters" (102). David Maughan-Brown is cautious about the ideology of leadership implicit in the novel and comments: "the solution Achebe's fiction here proposes to what its author sees as the problems afflicting contemporary Nigeria seem to me to be unlikely to have the durability of the anthills of the savannah, capable of enduring many seasons of grassfires" (148). The diversity of opinion points to the difficulties inherent in a narrative that self-consciously forges new directions.
Achebe has preserved a meticulous sense of historical continuum in his first four novels, beginning with the turn of the century in Things Fall Apart (1958) and moving to the post-independence era in A Man of the People (1966). In between are No Longer at Ease (1960), which deals with the classic been-to predicament of disillusionment and Arrow of God (1964), a novel about a priest who refuses to change with the times.1 Anthills of the Savannah confronts the present by focussing on the oppressive military rule in the West African state of Kangan. Continuities are also present at other levels, and the author himself draws attention to his previous works through intertextual references. Beatrice's mention of Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, is, for instance, a clear reference to the relevance of Things Fall Apart to this work. Both novels are concerned with the idea of a hero and the implications of death. The preoccupation with tradition and the symbiotic relation between values and ritual figure prominently in both Arrow of God and Anthills of...