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I(feanyichukwu) N(dubuisi) C(hikezie) Aniebo Biography

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Nationality: Nigerian. Born: Nigeria in 1939. Education: Government College, Umuahia; University of California, Los Angeles, B.A., C. Phil., M.A. Military Service: Joined the Nigerian Army in 1959: attended cadet schools in Ghana and England; officer in the United Nations peace-keeping force in the Congo; at Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; fought on the Biafran side in the Nigerian civil war; discharged from army, 1971. Career: Currently, Senior Lecturer in English, University of Port Harcourt.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

The Anonymity of Sacrifice. London, Heinemann, 1974.

The Journey Within. London, Heinemann, 1978.

Rearguard Actions. Ibadan, Nigeria, Heinemann Educational Books, 1998.

Short Stories

Of Wives, Talismans and the Dead. London, Heinemann, 1983.

Man of the Market: Short Stories. Port Harcourt, Pam Unique, 1994.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Jealous Goddess," in Spear (Lagos), October 1963.

"My Mother," in Sunday Times (Lagos), 22 December 1963.

"The Ring," in Nigeria Magazine (Lagos), December 1964.

"The Peacemakers," in Nigeria Magazine (Lagos), December 1965.

"Shadows," in Black Orpheus 20 (Lagos), 1966.

"Mirage," in Nigeria Magazine (Lagos), March 1966.

"The Outing," in Happy Home and Family Life (Lagos), May 1972.

"Happy Survival, Brother," in Ufahamu (Los Angeles), vol. 7, no. 3, 1977.

* * *

Since 1963 I.N.C. Aniebo has been the author of a steady succession of short stories written for various periodical publications, a selection of them at last appearing as Of Wives, Talismans and the Dead in 1983. Most of them deal with the problems of Igbo people in Eastern Nigeria trying to cope with the transition from rural to urban living and with other pressures of accelerating social change, including that most hectic of such changes, war itself. The commonest experience in Aniebo's fiction is the bewilderment that results from lack of trust in other people and lack of faith in the efficacy of the gods, whether traditional African or imported Christian. He often plunges his characters into some variety of spiritual emptiness or near-despair after they have been betrayed by those closest to them in childhood, adolescence, work, or marriage. The acrid taste of defeat is perhaps Aniebo's most distinctive contribution to West African literature in English—his ability to record convincingly instances of human strength wilting and shriveling, usually as the indirect outcome of large social processes. If Aluko's writing captures the comedy of Nigerian life acclimatizing itself to the modern world, and Achebe's the tragedy of it within an historical perspective, and Soyinka's the human spirit refusing to be broken by it, then what Aniebo records is the intense pain that afflicts people when social change halts, trips, nonpluses, or defeats them.

In the story "Dilemma," the priestess addresses her wayward son: "The earth has never changed. The winds still continue to blow, the rains to fall, and men to be born and die. Only little things that don't matter change. Don't say because things change, you'll stop believing in God and believe in the Devil." Her words pronounce the traditional wisdom that many Nigerians today mock, or cannot accept, or covet, when it appears in others, or deliberately reject for the pursuit of personal ambition and the acquisition of consumer goods. Aniebo, however, presents such evaporation of faith not as an ordinary clash-of-cultures matter but as the heavy price that Nigerians pay for entry into the modern world. While it is more pervasive in large towns, like Port Harcourt in the novel The Journey Within, it characterizes also the stories in Of Wives, Talismans and the Dead, most of which are set in rural Igbo villages. Thus, in the privacy of their tender incestuous love, widowed father and devoted daughter and only surviving child, in "Maruma," find the true fulfillment of giving to another, but when her pregnancy makes their love public, their having broken a powerful social taboo destroys first their relationship and then themselves and their line. Yet, years later, their ruined, crumbling compound is symmetrically matched at the other end of the village by another as desolate, whose respectable and fecund owners had committed no "abomination." This even-handed "leveling" at the end of the story is the author's explicit comment, and it makes one wonder whether the dark views of the human condition that many of Aniebo's characters express aren't also his own, as in the war story, "In the Front Line": "The war had proved that no matter what one did or worshipped one died all the same, and more often than not like a rat." Similarly, in the thoughts of Cristian Okoro in The Journey Within: "… his family had fought for survival, always getting up after a fall, always continuing to fight after a defeat. So, was life merely a getting-up after a fall?"

Aniebo's first published book, The Anonymity of Sacrifice, is a novel about the bitterness of successive Biafran "falls" during the Nigerian Civil War. It is a collection of very vivid, rapidly sketched illustrations of, admittedly, some heroic improvisations against great odds, but chiefly of betrayals, misunderstandings, personal defeats, frustration, and distrust, with the estrangement of the two major characters, and their pointless deaths, inadequately exploited novelistically. While the details of the narrative do indeed convey disillusion and corruption, there is little sense of their being worked into a firm design, and the title promises more significance than the book delivers.

The second novel, The Journey Within, is altogether more relaxed in execution, but again more ambitious in the endeavor than in the realization. It is centered upon the stories of two marriages, one traditional, the other Christian. In probing, to some depth, the joys, sorrows tensions, struggles, love, and hatred that are generated between husband and wife, Aniebo is clearly arguing that marriage (whatever its kind) is a very thorny experience. Unfortunately, by making the two marriages progressively less distinctive, he throws away the opportunity to break his larger theme with finer shades and more delicate ironies. Yet the novel is full of sardonic instances of human folly, as individuals seek their own fulfillments in an urban environment of free and selfish enterprise. While there is much mature observation of love and sexuality, some of the scenes between lovers are rendered with more mere titillation than the tone of the narration elsewhere strives after.

The collection of short stories is certainly the most successful of Aniebo's books, for under the pressure of brevity and pithiness, his particular gift, the rapid but accurate sketching of a scene without having to sustain its implications across a large design, is revealed as professional and complete in its own right. In the novels his transitions from one emotion to another are often incongruous, but in the stories he can move without inhibition or oddity across a gamut of emotions—anger at the exploitation of dockers in "Rats and Rabbits," self-confidence without moral crutches in "Godevil" (intentionally ambiguous as "Go devil" or "God evil"?), self-gratification in "Moment of Decision," the horror of murder within the family in "The Quiet Man" and "A Hero's Welcome," and, rarely, the consolation of faith in "Four Dimensions." The bleakness of Aniebo's vision is tempered, in his best writing, by a wry ironic sense that does not exclude muted compassion.

—Arthur Ravenscroft

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