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Chinua Achebe is chuckling as he attempts to describe how much it means to him to have won the Man Booker International Prize.
'How do I answer that?' he wonders, in his soft, sing-song voice. 'It means I am appreciated in certain quarters, that my work means something to people. When I started writing all those years ago, I wasn't even aware there were such rewards. All I had in mind was to write a true story, in the way that fiction can be true. I had to be honest. I was not going to be pushed around. And so, to have appreciation of any kind is wonderful.'
Many would argue that such appreciation is long overdue. It is half a century since Achebe, who was born in 1930 in Ogidi, Nigeria, started writing Things Fall Apart, the book for which he is still most admired. Since then, although he has produced 21 novels, numerous short stories, beautiful poetry and searing criticism, he has never been awarded either of the top literary honours -- the Booker or the Nobel.
But the International Booker, celebrated in a ceremony in Oxford on 28 June, is no mean feat. Awarded every two years to a living author of any nationality for a body of work, the shortlist this year contained such luminaries as Atwood, …