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11 International TV Adaptations

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These television shows were so popular that they got adapted for new countries and cultures.

1. Metastasis, an adaptation of Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad, the Emmy-winning AMC drama and widespread cultural obsession, was just a few months short of premiering its final eight episodes when, in March of 2013, Sony Pictures Television confirmed that a Spanish-language remake was in the works per a partnership with the Colombian producer Teleset. Titled Metastasis—after metastasizing cancer—the show’s plot and characters are nearly identical to the original.

Set in Colombia, Metastasis will tell the story of Walter Blanco (played by Diego Trujillo), a chemistry teacher-turned cancer patient-turned meth kingpin. Blanco is joined by his wife, Cielo, junkie sidekick Jose Rosas, and menacing brother-in-law Henry Navarro. Though some of these details may seem straight out of Google Translate, Metastasis will stray from the original in a few ways—for example, the meth-cooking duo will operate from inside an old school bus rather than an RV. “Motor homes are not popular in Colombia, so audiences will see Walter and Jose cooking up their first several batches of methamphetamine in an old, barely drivable school bus," explained Angelica Guerra, SPT senior VP and managing director of production for Latin America and the U.S. Hispanic market.

Metastasis will be the first completely remade version of the series, though Breaking Bad has previously sold in over 140 countries worldwide and largely failed to stick; in the United Kingdom, the series lasted just two seasons before being moved to Netflix. However, Guerra remains optimistic about the fate of Metastasis: “Breaking Bad is a fantastic series that wasn’t seen widely in Latin America, partly because cable doesn’t yet have full penetration in the region. [But] there is a universality to the story and its characters that we recognized could work very well.”

2. Homeland, an adaptation of Hatufim

Showtime’s Homeland has repeatedly shared the awards ballots with Breaking Bad, but the CIA drama starring Claire Danes—who alone has won two Golden Globes and two Emmys for her work as CIA agent Carrie Mathison—actually began as an Israeli show without the female protagonist Danes portrays. That show, titled Prisoners of War (or Hatufim, in Hebrew) aired its first season in 2010 before being sold to 20th Century Fox Television.

Homeland and Prisoners’ second seasons premiered mere days apart (September 30, 2012 and October 1, 2012, respectively). Where Homeland focuses squarely on Mathison and her suspicions that a returned soldier (Damian Lewis) who had been MIA for eight years may have been “turned” in allegiance to a terrorist organization, Prisoners deals more directly with the soldiers themselves. In Homeland, Lewis’s character plays a condensed version of two men at the forefront of Prisoners: Nimrod (Yoram Toledano), father of two children who hardly remember him, and Uri (Ishai Golan), who returns home to find his fiancée involved with another man—his brother. In both series, the returned soldiers must deal with the aftereffects of their trauma and undergo questioning, debriefings, and evaluations. Certain discrepancies in their stories cause suspicions to arise among officials—while Prisoners lacks a Carrie Mathison, it does have its own skeptic in Haim (Gal Zaid), an army psychologist who finds the soldiers’ behavior suspicious.  

Homeland, with its big name actors and even bigger budget, is undoubtedly glossier, but the writers of Prisoners reportedly see this as an advantage. As creators Gideon Raff and Ran Telem told The New Yorker, the lower budget places greater emphasis the quality of the writing—since Israeli networks read the entire season before green-lighting a series, writers are more or less immune to ratings-related changes.  While Homeland is well into its fourth season on Showtime, both seasons of Prisoners of War, its lesser-known relative, can be viewed for free on Hulu.

3. Stromberg, an adaptation of The Office

If you’ve owned a television for any part of this millennium, odds are you’ve been subjected to a heated "The Office (U.K.) versus The Office (U.S.)” debate. However, there’s a little-known, slightly questionable third option for this argument: Stromberg —the German Office clone that follows Bernd Stromberg, the incompetent head of an insurance office—broadcast on the German network ProSieben. Following its debut in 2004, the series became one of Germany’s most popular comedy shows, and went on to win several German Comedy Awards.

Stomberg wasn’t technically a true Office remake, though; neither of the original Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant had been involved in its conception. While the Stromberg producers claimed that the show was based on a previous ProSieben comedy, the similarities were too obvious to ignore; from the chipper opening music to the mockumentary-style filming and right down to Bernd Stromberg’s David Brent-ish goatee, Stromberg seemed a straight copy of The Office. Following threats of legal action from BBC, ProSieben eventually added an “Inspired By” acknowledgement for Gervais and Merchant to Stromberg’s credits, assuaging BBC without depriving Germany of its beloved cringe comedy.

4. The Indian Adaptation of 24

Launching a fast-paced action series starring a Bollywood star in a television landscape dominated by soap operas definitely seems like a risky move—but for a show where someone essentially saves the world in an hour, maybe a certain level of risk is appropriate. Earlier this fall, the Indian channel Colors premiered the Hindi version of 24, the action-packed U.S. drama  for which Kiefer Sutherland is best known. Taking up Jack Bauer-style role of anti-terrorism agent Jai Singh Rathod is Indian actor Anil Kapoor, whose previous work includes several Bollywood films and Slumdog Millionaire—and interestingly, the American version of 24, where he played the (spoiler alert!) doomed president of a fictional Middle Eastern country. Though only about a month into its run, the series has been relatively well-received so far; critics at the Indian entertainment website Rediff.com gave it a positive review, calling it, “a step in a desperately needed direction” for Indian television. You can see a preview here.

5. Planet Homebuddies, an adaptation of Friends

According to NPR, Chinese 20-somethings really love Friends. Some credit it with teaching them “how to treat friends, girlfriends, my wife, how to be generous, how to be gentle,” while others create complete mini-replicas of the gang’s coffee shop hangout Central Perk and demand to be called “Gunther.” So it only makes sense that someone would try to profit off this obsession by creating a new, Chinese version of the show. Colorfully titled Planet Homebuddies, the Friends clone follows six 20-somethings—Chinese, this time—and their foibles as they live together in a loft. It even features a theme song by Danny Wilde of the Rembrants, writer of the original theme song “I’ll Be There for You.” If you’re wondering, “homebuddies” is a term coined by series creator Mei Tian that refers to young people who work from home. The series launched online in February 2013.

6. The Theorists, an adaptation of The Big Bang Theory

Considering the success of Chuck Lorre’s nerd comedy The Big Bang Theory, it’s no surprise that other countries would want to get in on the action. The series has had fairly successful runs in Canada and the U.K., but trouble arose when an unlicensed Belarusian copy called The Theorists (Теоретики) surfaced.

The Theorists opened with a similar montage chronicling the history of life, almost identically named main characters, and the exact same overall premise. Many episodes even seemed to be direct translations of existing Big Bang Theory episodes. When Lorre debated how to approach this very obvious rip-off, he found that legal action for copyright infringement would be nearly impossible, as the production company was owned and operated by the Belarusian government. So, in true comedic style, Lorre opted instead to playfully chide the copiers through the vanity cards he often employs at the end of The Big Bang Theory: Lorre informed viewers about Belarus’s main exports—specifically, cattle byproducts—and their “bustling television production industry.” After describing the rip-off and explaining how difficult it would be to effectively sue the nation of Belarus, the card concludes with the hope that the Belarusians will at least feel guilty enough to send over some felt hats, jokingly adding that “[the] Kyrgyzstan version of Dharma & Greg already sent [him] some wallpaper paste.” 

As it turned out, Lorre didn’t even need to sue to get The Theorists off the air. When the Belarusian actors in The Theorists caught wind of the message, they were horrified; they’d been told the series was legit. Said one such actor, Dmitriy Tankovich, “…The actors were told all legal issues were resolved. We didn't know it wasn't the case, so when the creators of The Big Bang Theory started talking about the show, I was embarrassed. I can't understand why our people first do, and then think. I consider this to be the rock bottom of my career. And I don't want to take part in a stolen show.”  In a noble act of creative solidarity, the Belarusian cast quit the show and it was soon cancelled.

7. Geordie Shore, an adaptation of Jersey Shore

Those wishing to bust the stereotype that Brits are inherently classier than Americans can look no further than Geordie Shore, the British version of American national treasure Jersey Shore. Geordie Shore adopted the popular reality show format of “put several 20-somethings in a house together and watch what happens” for the new setting of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, although the cast hails from various places in North East England. The hair is still big, the deep V-necks are still deep, and the drama is more or less the same as its American counterpart.

Of course, apart from the partying, there’s also the requisite absurdity that makes for good TV. For example, following the death of her fish, cast member Charlotte decided to cremate it and scatter its ashes into the sea, saying, “It is sad but when I die I’ll be cremated, and then we can meet again and swim and hold hands in the ocean.” While Jersey Shore aired its sixth and final season in 2012, Geordie Shore is still going strong, currently well into its seventh season.

8. Wisteria Lane, Nigeria, an adaptation of Desperate Housewives

In recent years, the television “format” business is booming—networks have taken to buying “ideas,” rather than finished products, allowing them to further customize them to fit their main audiences. Such is the case with the latest reboot of the popular series Desperate Housewives. Having already been adapted into Brazilian, Colombian, and Turkish versions, Housewives’ next stop is Nigeria.

The African TV network EbonyLife, which reaches 44 different countries on the continent, recently announced their plans to film a version of the show set in Lagos, Nigeria. Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife, plans to give the reboot “an African flavor,” adding, “"What you see of Africa is what you get on National Geographic. It's what you get by watching elephants or giraffes. I have never seen a giraffe in my entire life.” The series, set to launch next year, will feature a heavy focus on African fashion and music. “The news tends to focus on certain stories. I am not saying those realities don't exist, but there is another reality,” said Abudu. “We want to focus on the younger designers who are doing amazing things, the musicians, the entrepreneurs." 

9. Everybody Loves Kostya, an adaptation of Everybody Loves Raymond

In 2009, Everybody Loves Raymond producer Phil Rosenthal journeyed to Russia to adapt his show for Russian audiences. Although the sitcom was wildly successful in the U.S., adapting it to fit Russian sensibilities was no small feat. Apart from some surface difficulties—for example, one of the Russian producers was resistant to buying chairs for the live audience—Rosenthal also had issues with properly adapting the comedic core of the show. When writing for Raymond, Rosenthal often liked to root his jokes in real-life experiences; when he explained this to the Russian producers, they weren’t quite sold: “They looked at me kind of stunned. ‘Real life is terrible. Why would you want to show real life?’”

At that time, most other U.S. television imports—notably, the Russian version of The Nanny—were over the top and full of caricature, the type of comedy that generally plays pretty well with international audiences. The small quirks of Raymond and co. were lost on Russian audiences; the Russian head writer deemed Raymond “too soft” for a male protagonist, while the network head of comedy television flat-out called Raymond “not funny.” Eventually, the show came together as the Russian writers found their footing writing in more Russian comedic style, making it more Everybody Loves Kostya and less Everybody Loves Raymond, in Russia. Even skeptical Rosenthal, who later released a documentary about the adaptation process, called Exporting Raymond, admitted that they did “an amazing job.”

10. Teach Seán, An Irish Adaptation of Cheers

For a classic pub sitcom set in a Boston, a city with one of the highest concentrations of Irish heritage in America, it’s strange to think of Cheers as an export rather than import—but that’s exactly what’s happening. In December 2012, the Dublin-based Sideline Productions signed a deal with CBS to remake the series for the Irish channel TG4. The remake will move the home bar from bustling Boston to the rural West of Ireland, and Sam Malone’s name is changed to Sean, but that’s not the only change—the series will also be broadcast entirely in the Irish language. With the working title Teach Seán (roughly, Sean’s House), the Cheers reboot will be thoroughly Irish—it’s rumored that, while Sam Malone was a baseball player, Sean’s glory days will be in the traditional Irish sport hurling. Creators aim to have the series on the air by January 2014.

11. Al-Shamshoon, the Arabic Adaptation of The Simpsons

Fans of The Simpsons might say that Homer Simpson without his beer, donuts, and pork products wouldn’t be Homer Simpson at all—and they’d be right. Instead, he’d be Omar Shamshoon, star of the short-lived Arabic adaptation of The Simpsons. In 2005, the Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) set out to adapt one of the most popular television shows of all time into something more appropriate for the Arab world. The MBC hired the region’s best writers and actors to make for a smooth transition, but they also had to “Arabize” some of The Simpsons’ more culturally sensitive content.

After renaming the main characters accordingly—Marge, Bart, and Lisa Simpson became Mona, Badr, and Beeza Shamshoon—and changing Springfield to Rabeea (Arabic for “spring”), they began retooling smaller details to make it more culturally sound for Arabic audiences. In Rabeea, Omar Shamshoon drank Duff soda, hung out at Moe’s Coffee Shop, and ate kahk cookies instead of donuts.

Unfortunately, even with all the work that went into “Arabizing” it, many Arabs still opted for the real thing. With the dawn of satellite TV, people were able to watch the original version with Arabic subtitles, which proved to be preferable to the heavily edited version. Al-Shamshoon only ended up airing for 34 of its scheduled 52 episodes before MBC pulled the plug entirely.

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25 Things You Might Not Know About Home Alone
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On November 16, 1990, what appeared to be a fun-filled little family yarn about a kid left to his own devices at Christmastime and forced to fend off a couple of bungling burglars, became an instant classic. Today, no holiday movie marathon is complete without a viewing of Home Alone, the movie that turned Macaulay Culkin into one of the biggest kid stars of all time. And while you may be able to recite its dialogue line for line, here are 25 things you might not know about the John Hughes-penned picture. So settle in and enjoy, ya filthy animals. 

1. WITHOUT UNCLE BUCK, THERE’D BE NO HOME ALONE.

The idea for Home Alone occurred to John Hughes during the making of Uncle Buck, which also starred Macaulay Culkin. Always game to play the precocious one, there’s a scene in which Culkin’s character interrogates a potential babysitter through a mail slot. In Home Alone, Culkin has a similar confrontation with Daniel Stern, this time via a doggie door.

2. THE ROLE OF KEVIN WAS WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR MACAULAY CULKIN.

But that didn't stop director Chris Columbus from auditioning more than 100 other rascally pre-teens for the part. Which really was all for naught, as Culkin nailed the role.

3. MACAULAY WASN’T THE ONLY CULKIN TO APPEAR IN THE FILM.


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Macaulay;'s younger brother Kieran also landed a part as Kevin’s bed-wetting cousin, Fuller. Though the film marked Kieran’s acting debut, he has since gone on to build an impressive career for himself in movies like The Cider House Rules, Igby Goes Down, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

4. CASTING CULKIN TAUGHT CHRIS COLUMBUS A VERY IMPORTANT LESSON.

Since Home Alone, Columbus (who also wrote the scripts for Gremlins and The Goonies) has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s premier family-friendly moviemakers as the director of Home Alone 2, Mrs. Doubtfire, and two movies in the Harry Potter franchise. But one lesson he learned from Home Alone is that when you agree to work with a kid actor, you’re also agreeing to work with his or her family.

“I was much younger and I was really too naive to think about the family environment as well,” Columbus told The Guardian in 2013. “We didn't know that much about the family at the beginning; as we were shooting, we learned a little more. The stories are hair-raising. I was casting a kid who truly had a troubled family life.” In 1995, Culkin’s parents, who were never married, engaged in a very public—and nasty—legal battle over his fortune. 

5. THE FILM IS A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD HOLDER.

In its opening weekend, Home Alone topped the box office, making $17,081,997 in 1202 theaters. The movie maintained its number one spot for a full 12 weeks and remained in the top 10 until June of the following year. It became the highest grossing film of 1990 and earned a Guinness World Record as the highest-grossing live-action comedy ever domestically.

6. THE MOVIE’S UNPRECEDENTED SUCCESS LED TO ITS TITLE BECOMING A VERB.


20th Century Fox

In his book The Big Picture: Who Killed Hollywood? And Other Essays, two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman admitted that the unexpected success of Home Alone contributed a new phrase to the Hollywood lexicon: to be Home Aloned, meaning that other films suffered at the box office because of Home Alone’s long and successful run. “More than one executive said to me, ‘My picture did 40, but it would have done 50 if it hadn’t been Home Aloned,’” wrote Goldman.

7. IT SPAWNED MORE THAN A SEQUEL.

While all of the main, original cast members reprised their roles for Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (with Columbus again directing a script by Hughes), the success of the original led to a full-on franchise, complete with four sequels, three video games, two board games, a novelization, and other kid-friendly merchandise (including the Talkboy). 

8. POLAND LOVES THE MCCALLISTERS.

Showings of Home Alone have become a Christmas tradition in Poland, where the film has aired on national television since the early 1990s. And its popularity has only increased. In 2011 more than five million people tuned in to watch it, making it the most watched show to air during the season. 

9. THE MCCALLISTER HOME HAS BECOME A MAJOR TOURIST ATTRACTION.


A Syn via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Located at 671 Lincoln Avenue in Winnetka, Illinois, the kitchen, main staircase, and ground-floor landing seen in the film were all shot in this five-bedroom residence. (The dining room and all other first-floor rooms, with the exception of the kitchen, were shot on a soundstage.) In 2012, John and Cynthia Abendshien, who owned the home when it was used as one of the film’s locations, sold the property for $1.585 million.

10. KEVIN’S TREE HOUSE WAS NOT PART OF THE DEAL.

Kevin’s backyard tree house was not originally part of the property. It was constructed specifically for the movie and demolished once filming ended. 

11. ALL OF THE FILM WAS SHOT IN THE CHICAGO AREA.

Though the main plot point is that that McCallister family is in Paris while Kevin’s back home in Illinois, the production was shot entirely within the Chicago area. The scenes supposedly set at Paris-Orly Airport were shot at O’Hare International Airport. And those luxurious business class seats they’re taking to Paris? Those were built on the basketball court of a local high school—the same school where the scene in which Kevin is running through a flooded basement was filmed (the “basement” in question was actually the school’s swimming pool). 

12. ROBERT DE NIRO TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF HARRY LIME.


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As did Jon Lovitz. Then Joe Pesci swept in and made the part his own. Bonus fun fact: The character is a slight homage to Orson Welles. (It was the name of Welles’ character in Carol Reed’s The Third Man.) 

13. JOE PESCI GOT ALL METHOD ON MACAULAY CULKIN.

In order to get the most authentic performance possible, Joe Pesci did his best to avoid Macaulay Culkin on the set so that the young actor would indeed be afraid of him. And no one would blame the young actor for being a bit petrified, as he still bears the physical scar from one accidental altercation. “In the first Home Alone, they hung me up on a coat hook, and Pesci says, ‘I’m gonna bite all your fingers off, one at a time,’” Culkin recalled to Rule Forty Two. “And during one of the rehearsals, he bit me, and it broke the skin.” 

14. PESCI WASN’T USED TO THE WHOLE “FAMILY-FRIENDLY” THING.

Considering that Pesci’s best known for playing the heavy in movies like Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino, it’s understandable that he wasn’t quite used to the whole family-friendly atmosphere on the set of Home Alone—and dropped a few f-bombs as a result of that. Columbus tried to curb Pesci’s four-letter-word tendency by suggesting he use the word “fridge” instead. 

15. DANIEL STERN HAD A FOUR-LETTER WORD SLIP-UP, TOO.


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And it wasn’t cut out of the film. He utters the word “s***” when attempting to retrieve his shoe through the doggie door (look for it at the 55:27 mark on the DVD). 

16. IN REAL LIFE, HARRY AND MARV MAY NOT HAVE SURVIVED KEVIN’S ATTACK.

BB gun shots to the forehead and groin? A steaming hot iron and can of paint to the face? A flaming blowtorch to the scalp? The Wet Bandits endure an awful lot of violence at the hands of a single eight-year-old. So much so that neither one of them should have been walking—let alone conscious—by the end of the night. In 2012, Dr. Ryan St. Clair diagnosed the likely outcome of their injuries at The Week. While a read-through of the entire article is well worth your time, here are a few of the highlights: That iron should have caused a “blowout fracture,” leading to “serious disfigurement and debilitating double vision if not repaired properly.” And the blowtorch? According to Dr. St. Clair, “The skin and bone tissue on Harry's skull will be so damaged and rotted that his skull bone is essentially dying and will likely require a transplant.” 

17. THE ORNAMENTS THAT MARV STEPS ON WOULD CAUSE THE LEAST AMOUNT OF DAMAGE.

"Walking on ornaments seems pretty insignificant compared to everything else we've seen so far,” said Dr. St. Clair. “If I was Marv, I'd be more concerned about my facial fractures.” Fortunately, the "glass" ornaments in question were actually made of candy. (But just to be on the safe side, Stern wore rubber feet for his barefoot scenes.)

18. THE TARANTULA ON STERN’S FACE? YEP, THAT WAS REAL.


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At one point, Kevin places a tarantula on Marv’s face. And it was indeed a real spider (Daniel Stern agreed to let it happen—but he’d only allow for one take). What wasn’t real? That blood-curdling scream. In order to not frighten the spider, Stern had to mime the scream and have the sound dubbed in later.

19. JOHN CANDY WRAPPED IN ONE DAY.

But what a long day it was: Twenty-three hours to be exact. Candy was a regular in many of John Hughes’ movies, and Gus Polinski—the polka-playing nice guy he plays in Home Alone—was inspired by his character in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. 

20. KEVIN’S OLDER SISTER IS A JUDO CHAMP.

Two years after appearing in Home Alone, Hillary Wolf—who played Kevin’s older sister Megan—landed the lead in Joan Micklin Silver’s Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even. She also appeared in Home Alone 2, but hasn’t been seen on the big screen since. But there’s a good reason for her absence: In 1996 and 2000, she was a member of the Summer Olympic Judo team for the U.S. 

21. DON’T BOTHER TRYING TO FIND ANGELS WITH FILTHY SOULS.

The Jimmy Cagney-like gangster movie that Kevin channels as his inspiration throughout Home Alone? Don’t bother searching for it on eBay. It’s not real. Nor is its sequel, Angels With Even Filthier Souls, which is featured in Home Alone 2. 

22. OLD MAN MARLEY WASN'T IN THE ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY.

Kevin’s allegedly scary neighbor, who eventually teaches him the importance of family, wasn’t a character in the original script. He was added at the suggestion of Columbus, who thought the film could do with a stronger dose of sentimentality.

23. THE LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO BENEFITED FROM THE MOVIE’S SNOWFALL.

When filming of Home Alone wrapped, the production donated some of the artificial snow they had created (the stuff made from wax and plastic) to the Lyric Opera of Chicago. It has since been used in a number of their productions.

24. MARV WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE GOTTEN A SPINOFF.

Greg Beeman’s 1995 film Bushwhacked, which stars Daniel Stern as a delivery guy on the run after being framed for murder, was originally intended to be a spinoff of Home Alone. The storyline would have been essentially the same: after giving up a life of crime, Marv would have been framed for the same murder.

25. IF YOU BELIEVE THAT ELVIS IS STILL ALIVE, THEN YOU MIGHT BELIEVE THAT HE IS IN HOME ALONE.

No hit movie would be complete without a great little conspiracy theory. And in the case of Home Alone, it’s that Elvis Presley—who (allegedly?) died in 1977—makes a cameo in the film. Yes, that’s right. The King is alive and well. And making a living as a Hollywood extra.

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5 Things You Should Know About Chinua Achebe
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Often referred to as the “father of African literature,” author Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria on this day in 1930. Though he passed away in 2013, Google is celebrating what would be his 87th birthday with a Google Doodle. Here are five things you should know about the award-winning writer.

1. HE HAD PLANNED TO BE A DOCTOR.

Though he was always an avid reader and began learning English at the age of eight, Chinua Achebe hadn’t always planned to become a beacon of the literary world. After studying at Nigeria’s prestigious Government College (poet Christopher Okigbo was one of his classmates), Achebe earned a scholarship to study medicine at University College in lbadan. One year into the program he realized that writing was his true calling and switched majors, which meant giving up his scholarship. With financial help from his brother, Achebe was able to complete his studies.

2. JOYCE CARY’S MISTER JOHNSON INSPIRED HIM TO WRITE, BUT NOT IN THE WAY YOU MIGHT THINK.

While storytelling had long been a part of Achebe’s Igbo upbringing in Nigeria, that was only part of what inspired him to write. While in college, he read Mister Johnson, Irish writer Joyce Cary’s tragicomic novel about a young Nigerian clerk whose happy-go-lucky demeanor infects everyone around him. While TIME Magazine declared it the “best book ever written about Africa,” Achebe disagreed.

“My problem with Joyce Cary’s book was not simply his infuriating principal character, Johnson,” Achebe wrote in Home and Exile. “More importantly, there is a certain undertow of uncharitableness just below the surface on which his narrative moves and from where, at the slightest chance, a contagion of distaste, hatred, and mockery breaks through to poison his tale.” The book led Achebe to realize that “there is such a thing as absolute power over narrative,” and he was inspired to take control of it to tell a more realistic tale of his home.

3. HE DIDN’T THINK THAT WRITING COULD BE TAUGHT.

Though he studied writing, Achebe wasn’t all too sure that he learned much about the art in college. In an interview with The Paris Review, he recalled how the best piece of advice he had ever gotten was from one of his professors, James Welch, who told him, “We may not be able to teach you what you need or what you want. We can only teach you what we know.”

I thought that was wonderful. That was really the best education I had. I didn’t learn anything there that I really needed, except this kind of attitude. I have had to go out on my own. The English department was a very good example of what I mean. The people there would have laughed at the idea that any of us would become a writer. That didn’t really cross their minds. I remember on one occasion a departmental prize was offered. They put up a notice—write a short story over the long vacation for the departmental prize. I’d never written a short story before, but when I got home, I thought, Well, why not. So I wrote one and submitted it. Months passed; then finally one day there was a notice on the board announcing the result. It said that no prize was awarded because no entry was up to the standard. They named me, said that my story deserved mention. Ibadan in those days was not a dance you danced with snuff in one palm. It was a dance you danced with all your body. So when Ibadan said you deserved mention, that was very high praise.

I went to the lecturer who had organized the prize and said, You said my story wasn’t really good enough but it was interesting. Now what was wrong with it? She said, Well, it’s the form. It’s the wrong form. So I said, Ah, can you tell me about this? She said, Yes, but not now. I’m going to play tennis; we’ll talk about it. Remind me later, and I’ll tell you. This went on for a whole term. Every day when I saw her, I’d say, Can we talk about form? She’d say, No, not now. We’ll talk about it later. Then at the very end she saw me and said, You know, I looked at your story again and actually there’s nothing wrong with it. So that was it! That was all I learned from the English department about writing short stories. You really have to go out on your own and do it.

4. HE WAS WARY OF MACHINES.

Though typewriters, followed by computers, were ubiquitous, Achebe preferred a “very primitive” approach. “I write with a pen,” he told The Paris Review. “A pen on paper is the ideal way for me. I am not really very comfortable with machines; I never learned to type very well. Whenever I try to do anything on a typewriter, it’s like having this machine between me and the words; what comes out is not quite what would come out if I were scribbling. For one thing, I don’t like to see mistakes on the typewriter. I like a perfect script. On the typewriter I will sometimes leave a phrase that is not right, not what I want, simply because to change it would be a bit messy. So when I look at all this … I am a preindustrial man.”

5. HIS DEBUT NOVEL REMAINS ONE OF THE MOST TAUGHT PIECES OF AFRICAN LITERATURE.

Achebe’s status as the “father of African literature” is no joke, and it’s largely due to his debut novel, Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958, the book—which follows the life of Okonkwo, an Igbo leader and wrestling champion—has gone on to sell more than 10 million copies and has been translated into 50 different languages. Even today, nearly 60 years after its original publication, it remains one of the most taught and dissected novels about Africa.

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