Friday, September 25, 2009

19. African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Title: Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe
Genre: Novel (Traditional, Historical)
Publishers: Heinemann (African Writers Series)
Pages: 166
Year: 1958
Country: Nigeria

Published in 1958, Things Fall Apart is one of the most widely read African novel. It is the first of Achebe's body of work and also the first book of what is usually referred to as the African Trilogy. Other novels in this trilogy are: No Longer At Ease and Arrow of God.

Set in Umuafia in the 1930s or so, Things Fall Apart, tells the story of the rise and fall of Okonkwo. Okonkwo was widely known throughout the nine villages of Umuafia for his warring prowess, where he is famed for having brought home five heads from all his wars and for his wrestling prowess for having thrown down the Cat. He was also industrious and rich, had three wives and many children, had large yam farms and had taken three of the four available titles in Umuafia.

However, Okonkwo's bravery, belligerence and industriousness was fuelled by his fear of inheriting his father's known weaknesses. As a result Okonkwo lacked self-restraint and he perceived violence as the key to every problem and these made him even weaker, for he paid heed to no advice and considered anyone who spoke against war or violence as a woman in a man's skin. After going against counsel and participating in the death of Ikemefuna, a young lad who had come to stay with him and had come to know him as his father, Okonkwo's weakness became clear, for his participation was solely based on the fear of being described as weak by his age-group.

Things came to worse when his son Nwoye (later Isaac Okonkwo) left his father's compound to join the colonialist religion, Christianity. He was cut off from the family and Okonkwo's hatred against the new religion that has become established in his village increased. Later, he was to murder one of the court's men and realising that none of the people of Umuafia supported him, committed suicide. Thus, upon all his bravery, fame and riches he was buried in a way similar to his father, a burial devoid of decent funeral.

This is an interesting novel that tells of the effects of the coming of the Europeans (or specifically the British) and their imposition of their form of government and religion on the Igbo community of Nigeria. It also gives an elucidation on the traditions of the Igbo people of Umuafia, which was hardly understood by the Europeans who thought of their (Umuafians) actions as savagery and primitive. Finally, it shows how a people's religion and tradition were gradually eroded and absorbed by another religion and tradition, which was even more difficult to understand by the people, just because the colonisers never understood the colonised and hence considered their actions primitive and inhumane. Logically, this has been the downfall of Africa's religion to the extent that today most portrayal of the African religion is in the negative sense even by Africans themselves.
This novel together with his Arrow of God was voted into Africa's Top 100 books of the 20th Century. Achebe is one of two authors to have two of their works on this list.

As I have said before, this is a widely read novel. However, I would recommend it to anyone who loves to read, for it is Achebe who popularised modern African Literature in English. The book is available at both the University of Ghana's bookshop and Silverbird at different prices.
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PS: This is also on the list of 100 books I am preparing, which I intend to read, together with other novels as they become available, over the next 5 years. In all I have read three books on this list.

12 comments:

  1. Great review. This is absolutely a MUST READ of African literature. I can't wait to read your next reviews...

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  2. Thanks. They would be coming soon, Stefania. At least as work and time would allow.

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  3. I had to read this in college for an anthropology class that focused largely on Nigeria. It was a fascinating read and still seems to be on lots of required reading lists here in the US.

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  4. Yes, that's what I heard. It is a good book but I wonder why some Westerners after reading the book still think Africa is in that state and still don't get it right about the continent. It is really an interesting read.

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  5. I hope that only ignorant westerners think that Africa is still in that state!
    It's good that this book is in reading lists in the USA. It is not in Italy, probably because it was not written in Italian originally and we didn't have many colonies. Unfortunately African literature in Italy is largely unknown (apart from a couple of white South African writers). I am an exception, of course, I love African literature!

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  6. hahaha...that's really true. If you love to read you must read from all cultures and I know you read a lot.

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  7. I love Achebe. One might think he gets his revelations from God!

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  8. He is a great novelist, Ed. I love the flair of his writing.

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  9. Thanks for your review of this, Nana. I had not heard of the African trilogy before and will have to check out the other 2 books.
    I look forward to your reviews of those and to following along as you read the other 97 books on your list.

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  10. Thanks Trixie. I think the reason why it was labelled as African Trilogy was that during the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Things Fall Apart, Achebe's first three books (Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease and Arrow of God) were published in a single book entitled 'African Trilogy'. Besides, the themes/subject matter intersects. They are just brilliant.

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  11. Chinua Achebe is among the best writers I like very much.

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  12. Yes, he is and I believe there are some who would take his place when he is gone.

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