Africa’s literary lion, Italy’s sprinting legend, the father of Korean calculators: Notable deaths this week

Chinua Achebe.
Chinua Achebe.
Image: AP Photo / Craig Ruttle
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Chinua Achebe, aged 82 — Revered Nigerian man of letters who has been called the father of modern African literature. He was best known for his 1958 debut novel “Things Fall Apart,”  which shocked the literary world by wresting control of Africa’s narrative from white colonial authors. Achebe’s work drew inspiration from his family’s history and was often steeped in traditional Ibo values. Both served as the backdrops for his incisive critiques of life under British colonial rule as well as the frustrations of the post-colonial era. “It is the story that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind,” he wrote in his 1988 novel “Anthills of the Savannah.”

Wu Renbao, 84 — Former Communist party chief of the village of Huaxi, in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province. His decision to transform the farming region into a manufacturing and trading hub soon after China opened its economy in the 1980s put the village on the path to its current title of “richest village” in the country. Mr. Wu’s approach to the capitalism was decidedly Chinese, driving Huaxi to incorporate and turning villagers into shareholders, who later reaped lavish dividends.

Vladislav Mamyshev-Monroe, 43 — Avant garde Russian artist known for assuming alternate personas of, at times, Hitler, the Buddha, Leo Tolstoy, Madonna and Marilyn Monroe, whose last name he eventually took on as a pseudonym. He drowned in a swimming pool in Bali. “Mamyshev-Monroe was one of the first to make his own life into a work of art,” curator Marat Gelman told Izvestia daily.

José Alfredo Martínez de Hoz, 87 — The former law professor was in charge of Argentina’s economy from 1976 to 1981, during some of the darkest days of the country’s military junta. As a technocrat, he was best known for combating inflation upon assuming office and for his tablita policy aimed at letting the Argentine peso depreciate at a steady rate against the US dollar. At the time of his death he was under house arrest, accused of human-rights abuses.

George Lowe, 89 — The last surviving climbing member of the team that helped Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay summit Mt. Everest in 1953. A teacher by training, Lowe was part of the group that established the final camp some 1,000 feet (300 meters) below the peak the day before Hillary and Norgay’s final climb. It was Lowe—a fellow New Zealander—who first greeted Hillary upon his return from the successful climb. “Well George,” Hillary famously recalled saying. “We knocked the bastard off!” Lowe’s film of the Everest expedition received an Academy Award nomination in 1954.

Gerald Babin, 25 — A participant in the French version of the popular reality show Survivor. He suffered a heart attack during the first day of the new season’s filming in Cambodia.

Pietro Mennea, 60 — Legendary Italian sprinter who was a star of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, where he took gold in the 200 meters. His 1979 world record mark remained the standard until American Michael Johnson broke it in 1996.

Man Young Rhee, 89 — A noted scholar of cryptology, he is said to have produced Korea’s first electronic calculator, in 1962.