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Saturday, 24 October 2015

55 Years of Nigerian Literature: A Book Cover Tour of 'Things Fall Apart'

The original 1958 green Heinemann
hardcover by artist C.W Bacon
Things Fall Apart doesn't tend to make it onto my celebratory posts - as it was published in 1958 - but this year as I am focusing on art, I figure I've found a loophole :) - the fact that there have been many covers published since its 1958 publication. And I know, I know! Chinua Achebe has made it twice onto my celebratory posts - it wasn't my intention. But I must admit, it is pretty amazing that Things Fall Apart has had this many book covers in the last 55 years. With exception of the 1958 and 1959 covers, there are 36 covers in this post. And I'm sure there are plenty more out there.


1959 US edition black cover with a white
 and orange African mask. 
While looking up covers for this post, I came across A Conversation with Chinua Achebe in Transitions Magazine. So in 2008 (Friday, April 25 to be exact), David Chioni Moore and Analee Heath interviewed Chinua Achebe at his home on the Bard College campus in New York. Moore and Heath brought with them around 20 different editions of Things Fall Apart and discussed 50 years of blurbs, introductions, author photos and book covers. There's the 1958 Heinemann cover which Achebe 'felt ... was striking' when he first saw it. In 2008 (at the time of the interview) Achebe explains how he 'might have said something about the black man standing here on the cover. That's not how he would have been standing. I am speaking of his posture, and his dress, or the lack of it.' As well as the 1992 Everyman Library edition which was a beautiful book to Achebe:

'Well, this book is beautiful . . . , that's what I think. I think, with this edition, this book has arrived after a long journey, and has made it to the end ... It's a good book, and it's how books should be. This is how they used to be, and I'm happy for the book.' 
The interview is really fascinating, but sadly not available online (unless you have some sort of access to Transitions - it's from issue 100, which can be found on JSTOR). So, starting with some of the covers the Transition conversation focused on, here's a literary book cover tour of Achebe's Things Fall Apart.


The first Heinemann AWS edition, 1963, designed by Dennis Duerden. Image via Transitions
Fawcett premier paperback of the late 1960s. Image via Transitions 
Another Fawcett paperback from the 1970s - a film-based book cover.
On this 'film-based cover', Achebe explains that 'it's a representation of a film rendition of Things Fall Apart. I don't think many people know about that film, but it was made by an American lawyer in Hollywood, Edward Mosk, and his wife Fern, in the early 1970s. The woman on the cover was in the film - Elizabeth of Toro, a Ugandan actress, and the daughter of the king of Toro. The fellow on the cover is from French-speaking West Africa - he was a Senegalese actor who was living in the United States.' As for the 1976 Heinemann cover, Achebe 'quite frankly' didn't know what to make of it.

Heinemann African Writers Series cover from 1976. 
Mid-1980s Heinemann African Writers Series edition.
1992 Everyman's Library Edition
... and here are the other covers I found, including the Spanish and isiXhosa editions. There's also a really interesting article in Chimurenga by Sean O'Toole which goes on a visual history of Things Fall Apart.


Charting the evolution of Achebe's covers, Moore ends the conversation by asking Achebe what he would expect will be on the cover of Things Fall Apart for the 100th anniversary edition?:
'We started in 1958 with a blurb about primitive society from the inside, then moved to late '60s and '70s more revolutionary, more violent, more politicized imagery, on to more abstract 1980s presentations, and finally an august world literature treatment here in 2008.'
Well in 2058, Chinua Achebe hoped 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.'

3 comments:

  1. I really love looking at various book covers for the same novel. The various interpretations are beautiful. One of the ones I really, really like is the cover with the man's face cracked up like parched earth.

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    Replies
    1. It is really interesting the ways in which a novel can be interpreted in so many ways and I really do love how it is that this novel has had so many interpretations since it was first published.

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