on 17 May 2006
There was unanimous agreement in our Book Group that we had all enjoyed this book. We mostly came to it not knowing what to expect, and enjoyed the perspective it gave us into a completely different society and way of life.
The way in which the first part of the book was written helped us to see how the tribal system worked and what the old beliefs were, it made us a part of the village and you saw life through their eyes and their values. It enabled you to accept, for instance, the polygamy, the treatment of women, and the killing of twin children without condemnation. It was this description of the tribal life that helped us to see, in the second part, what a devastating effect the arrival of the missionaries had on the tribe and how it gradually divided them and changed their way of life for ever.
Okonkwo makes an unusual 'hero' or main character. We sympathise with his continual fight against his childhood circumstances, but this makes him ignore advice, arrogant, and unnecessarily brutal. He sees himself as cerebral, regarding passion as a weakness, so it is when he does demonstrate love and passion it stands out more starkly.
Chielo the priestess is interesting, both a well-known and loved village member, but also the oracle at the cave. Both with her, and with the egwugwu spirits of the ancestors, the villagers show an amazing ability to suspend disbelief.
We thought that the building of the missionaries' church on the ground of the evil spirits was a clever device which allowed the 'white man' to demonstrate the weakness of the traditional religion. Nevertheless the end took us all by surprise, nothing had prepared you for it, as by this time you had identified with the life of the villagers. It was made even more poignant when you realised that the story would only merit a paragraph in the Commissioner's book.
on 15 October 2003
Ironically, I got turned on to this book by a piece of music. For years I'd marvelled at The Roots' album whose name, I recently found out, was taken from the title of this book. Having a degree in English Literature dominated by DWEM (dead white european males), Achebe's name had never even surfaced on my radar. What a travesty. Things fall apart is the perfect account of a dead civilisation, following a man, Okinkwo, as he battles with his culture, only to see it destroyed from both within and without by European colonialism. In contradiction to other accounts of Africa (such as Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'), Achebe's account is beautiful for its lack of Orientalist language and allusions, treating the complexities of indiginous Africa as both beautiful and, above all, natural. Neither the Africans, nor the collonialists, are treated as unusual oddities, instead the author manages to impartially portray people, events and traditions with astounding pragmatism, the simple, often abrupt language only reinforcing the novel's lack of sentimentality. A miraculous novel, Things Fall Apart not only paints a picture of Africa during its golden-age, but also demonstrates the ignorance and orientalism which led to its destruction. A true masterpiece.
on 25 January 2007
A most memorable book, Okonkwo looms large, but as a tragic figure is very human; small in the temporal context. His world is rapidly changing, christians have taken hold, and the gods seem to have gone silent. Indeed the 'pacification' of his village was thorough in this sense as it somehow strikes at the essence of their existence seemingly usurping it. The ghost of Okonkwo from this encounter still haunts the african continent; the tensions between the lure of modernisation and tradition. Achebe deals brilliantly with african space, connecting the past with the present, ensuring that precolonial space is documented for reference.
It is a most enjoyable read, one that must be revisited over and over again.
on 17 April 2003
This book superbly counterbalances the western perspectives on colonial Africa in the nineteenth century ('Heart of Darkness' springs to mind). In Conrad's book, West Africa is uncivilised, a hell on earth, and the people there (both locals and Europeans) behave savagely, as their surroundings dictate. Achebe rubbishes this view.
The book is the story of Okonkwo, a great but deeply flawed man, proud and violent yet deeply concerned with right and wrong and the rule of law. His village is strongly traditional, and Achebe repeatedly emphasises the use of laws and village beliefs to settle disputes. These are far from Conrad's savages, but rather they present a life every bit as orderly and civil as the Europeans soon to be invading them. When Okonkwo commits a crime (accidentally) he accepts his punishment unquestioningly, as do his close friends who must punish him, because to not do so is alien to them. Their society is not presented as idyllic, and has many unpleasant aspects (the beating of women, the killing of all twins, the sacrifice of Okonkwo's adopted son), but it is, above all, subject to the rule of law. This is an Africa that many western writers have enjoyed pretending didn't exist.
The finale of the book is beautiful and disturbing. Europeans arrive and, unable or unwilling to see the order in the Ibo society arround them, begin to install christian morals and ethics. This undermines the society, and the Ibo's violent backlash only serves to confirm what the Europeans have suspected all along. This is where the myth of uncivilised africa begins, and Achebe, himself an Ibo, but writing much later than the events descibed in the book, is in a unique position to expose this.
The joy of this book is in Achebe's understanding of the Ibo and his ability to explain the workings of a successful peaceful society. The darkness that Conrad saw comes from Okonkwo and men like him, but who exist all over the world, and also from the Europeans who went about 'pacifying' a peaceful people. No writer that I've read has ever shown this so brilliantly.
Chinua Achebe derives the title to his magnum opus from a verse from W. B. Yeats' "The Second Coming," The Collected Poems of W.B.Yeats (Wordsworth Poetry) (Wordsworth Poetry Library). An apt title indeed, for a novel whose central theme is what happened in Africa, from the African's perspective, when the white man (and yes, the gender is specific) showed up. The book was first published in the late `50's, shortly after Nigeria, where this novel is set, became independent. It concerns the Ibo (Igbo) region of southeastern Nigeria. This region sought its own independence as Biafra, in 1967, and Achebe became a spokesperson for their cause. There are now more than 8 million copies in print, and Achebe is often referred to as the father of modern African literature. With the novel's widespread acceptance, it has become a "school assignment" book, (it even has its own "Cliffs Notes"!) and hence, the posting of numerous 1-star reviews. Some of the1-star reviews are thoughtful however, challenging the author for using the work of a white Irishman for his title, and did the slaughter of World War I really compare with the interactions of white Europeans with Africans? That leads to the true fool's errand of toting up the dead bodies. As for my own reading, I've read several books from the (American) Indian perspective on the coming of the white man, and I have read numerous books on Africa, almost exclusively by whites such as Alan Paton, Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing, Albert Camus, Jules Roy, Alistair Horne, and even Joseph Conrad, who Achebe has fiercely criticized. Certainly a read from an African perspective, perhaps the most famous one, has been LONG overdue.
I liked Achebe's prose style. Straightforward, and unsentimental. He certainly does not depict a glorious Eden before the arrival of the white man. And almost three-fourths of the novel is set in the period before his arrival. The protagonist is Okonkwo, the son of an indolent father, Unoka. The son's upward social mobility commences with his wrestling victory over Amalinze the Cat. Okonkwo has the internal motivation to rise above his father's "station in life." There is the "sociological aspect" to the novel. I kept thinking of a 600 page treatise, with leaden prose, and tables, describing the rituals of birth, marriage and death, along with the systems for religious observation, the administration of justice, and the economics of village life. What are the family customs and beliefs that are held important? Achebe covers all of this, deftly, in novelistic vignettes. In addition, Achebe's characters display the universal qualities of the human condition: desire for advancement, greed, envy, sexual relations, pride, disappointment in one's children, and the response to natural disasters, such as too much rain, or too many locust. "Chi" is apparently the Ibo word for "fate," and it is a dominant factor in the characters' lives.
The white man first arrives on an "iron horse," which turns out to be a bicycle. He pays with his life for his temerity, a "casus belli," which quickly leads to an unequal exchange of life. But it is religion, and not armies, that provide the essential wedge for "things falling apart." I thought Achebe did a brilliant job in describing how it so often happens. In his novel, the white missionary is rather inoffensive and bumbling. But oh so effective in appealing to the individuals at the lower rungs of Ibo society... basically giving them a "second chance" in life. The Christian religion gathers adherents, and effectively defeats the "gods" of the native religion. Achebe also realistically depicts the (in)famous "divide and rule" tactics of the colonial British. When two quite different social structures compete, all too often, at least for a period, it is the side with the larger warships that seems to win.
Achebe's work is a classic, and despite Mark Twain's quip, one that should be read, by anyone seeking to truly understand why things are the way they are, particularly in Africa. Could it be made into a temporary home? 5-stars.
Okonkwo is a famous fighter and warrior, who strives to be respected, especially as he was ashamed of his father who was known for being lazy and in debt. The beginning of this short, but powerful, novel introduces Okonkwo's tribal customs to the reader. When a girl from Okonkwo's tribe is killed, a young man and a girl are sent to pay the debt and the young boy, Ikemefuna, is raised alongside his own family. His household peace is tested when the debt is finally paid and, from that point, things do not seem to go well for Okonkwo - a man who dominates his household, but who is forced into exile after an accidential death. Sadly, the ending of the first part of this book is almost an anti climax, as the tension created by the characters is excellent until this point. You really feel a great deal of empathy with Okonkwo's fear of being seen as having any weakness, despite his obvious love for his daughter Ezinma, and his desire to improve both his and his families lives.
During Okonkwo's time in exile the missionaries appear and everything changes. The arrival of a new government alongside a new religion causes deep rifts in the community. Okonkwo's response is to fight, but not everyone sees the changes as a bad thing. This is an interesting novel, which explores some really interesting themes and would be ideal for book groups. The novel is first in a trilogy, which are also contained in one volume The African Trilogy: Things Fall Apart No Longer at Ease Arrow of God (Everyman Library).
on 17 March 2002
Although I had to read this book for my school exams, I found it in no way a chore. The book is beautifully written, with Achebe drawing us in,slowly,to the Ibo culture. We learn of its traditions and beliefs, religion and society. The word used are simple,yet evocative. The principal character becomes a vivid creation in the reader's mind. Though he is a beast,a brutal and merciless man,we cannot help but feel for him. Such is the genius of Achebe's writing. The third part of the novel deals with the arrival of the white settlers,with their new religion and customs. We see the affect they have on the Ibo people,and on Okonkwo. The result is disasterous. The book is a thrilling read, it's pace perfectly structured. The importance of what the book has to say about the colonisation of Africa in the 19th Century simply adds to the reasons it is a must-read. If you cannot buy this book now, find some way to get your hands on it. You will not be sorry.
on 11 May 2009
Set at the end of the 19th century beginning of the 20th it tells how African village life was at the time, rather brutal and riddled with superstition in fact but missionaries, in trying to change African society made a lot of mistakes. I have read several books on a similar subject but this one is set earlier before Europeans had stepped in and changed African society forever...for better or for worse, a mixture of both I think.
on 29 November 2015
This book definitely make an interesting read. Obviously,the author, the late Chinua Achebe himself was an Ibo man and so was perfectly placed to present an orderly and unbiased interpretation of his own culture and it's value before the advent of the white man. It is not so much of the interpretation of the cultural values of the Ibo people that is so disturbing but those individuals like Okonkwo, who were bent on making sure such values operates smoothly without a hitch. The only sympathy I have for him is fear of becoming like his late father. For it is this fear which serves as veil which obscure his empathic faculty and renders him unnecessarily brutal even to the point of ignoring a wise advice from a friend a mentor of some kind not to take part in the execution of his adopted son. In being the arm that delivers final blow that murders an innocent boy caught up in the middle of the extreme end of an otherwise sane culture, he positions him as a cultural dinosaur to be discarded by any cultural evolution that encourages thinking outside the box of traditional cultural values. He loses all of my sympathy by being a dogged policeman to savage cultural practices without a pause to think about the misery it brought to many. In the end, I do not agree that colonialism is responsible for his sad, sad demise. Colonialism or not such brutal cultural set up was something that was bound to fail with the passing of time. This I think was long hinted on by the author before the arrival of the white man in the character of Okonkwo son, whose inmost being totally rejects the brutal cultural practices of his people. So in the end the white man does not receive the credit for the cultural revolution or evolution that occurred, but is rather mere a catalyst to change that was long overdue.
on 13 February 2012
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart ,first published in 1958, introduces many readers into the world of African tribes and cultures, Things Fall Apart is the first book out of four novels and has been praised immensly by critics in Africa, Europe and America. The author describes the Igbo tribe and its people, sharing the journey of Okowonko,a respected leader of the tribe.
Achebe's Things Fall Apart reels you into different cultures and beliefs, in the African village of Umuofia. Inspiring events such as being violently forced out of your own village, to the love of his daughter: Ezinma and to the strong views of his shocked mind. Okowonkwo's gradual spiral of shadows, shed by the desires and beliefs of white men, leads you into the life yourself until the very end.
Some of the main characters:
Okowonkwo- is a respected man after beating many of his copanions at wrestling in his youth, he now is hapily married to three hardworking women who are constantly threatened by his sudden agressive moods throughout the year. Okowonkwo's past continually threatens him, the behaviour and attitude of his father haunts him like a ghost.
Ekwefi- is Okwonkwo's first wife, she fell passionately in love with him in her youth, leading her to desert her fiancee and run away to Oklwonkwo's open arms. She is a caring mother to her only child: Ezinma, whom she cherishes, because all of her other babies died.
Ezinma- is Ekwefi's daughter, she is very clever and is often wished to be a boy by her father Okowonkwo, she is dearly loved by her mother and is scared by a strange possessed woman.
Ikefuna- is a boy who is handed over as a agreement between two villages and into the care of Okowonkwo's family, he deeply misses his own family, but is relieved by Okwonkwo's loving nature towards him. Although he has a troubling future...
After a tragic accident, Okowonkwo is forced to leave and be perfectly happy living with his wife's family, except while he is away white men come and invade his beloved village and all their beliefs. They are not carrying a gun, but a bible!
Will this intrusion convert the village into christionanity and bless them with precious, fresh customs or shatter the lives of devoted Africans, leaving them desolate and drowning in their own despair?
The effective and ineffective points of the book are that it is cleverly written and that the mood and the atmosphere captivates the reader. Some effective points are that it shows the place of men, women and children in their society; the viewpoint of the book is from Okowonkwo, the tribe member, his view has never been exploreed that well before. It definitely shows the the cultures and rituals, the way of life in Africa , in a new world for Europeans and others. Some ineffective points are that with the language, you had to keep on looking up the words, at the back of the book; it didn't desribe the settings and the surroundings well and it didn't show the view of the white men.
Achebe is good at being simple and effective. As Okowonkwo's friend Oberika says 'The white men are very clever. He came quietly and peacefully with his religion. We were amazed at his foolishness and allowed them to stay. now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one.' This is the disturbance of the white men.
Achebe successfully recreates the world of an African tribe, using his knowledge of cultures and beliefs. From the harvest of the yams to the rituals and traditions of the people, Achebe makes you depressed, thoughtful and jolly all in the same book. It was very informative about the country and its cultures; therefore I have learnt a lot.
I learnt that the intrusion of the white men affected the African tribe immensely. I also learnt that there is a vast difference of cultures between the two and that the role of women in the society was not important. That the members strived to be a leader and to be respected. I learnt that missionaries work sometimes doesn't help.
In conclusion, Things Fall Apart wasn't originally my type of book, yet I have learnt a lot and I apppreciate that it is classed a masterpiece in many eyes, all over the world. It captures African tribes in its creative grasp, such as the Igbo tribe in the book. Achebe's creation is a new perspective(to many of its readers)on the missionaries work and the African's daily lives. It's audience is targeted at anyone who strives for an atmospheric book that gets better everytime,never worse.