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 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 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.
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 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 15 July 2008
Chinua Achebe's acclaimed novel starts out as a thoughtful invocation of the culture and values of the Igbo people in pre-colonial Nigeria at a time when advice is sought from oracles and medicine-men, justice despatched through blood feuds and human sacrifice, and where the manly virtues of the warrior remain the defining quality sought by all self-respecting men. Embarrassed by his weak father Okonkwo sets out to be become a clan leader through steely determination, hard work and plain bullying. A lot of good it does him, though. A fatal accident - not in any way his fault - results in flight from his clan and a humiliating seven year exile. On his return, the missionaries had arrived in his village and we all know what happened next: the end of civilisation as they knew it.
This is an important book inasmuch as it was one of the first authentic African voices to portray the effects of colonialism on a traditional African society, and it came at a time when the British Empire had run its course and was on the verge of disintegration. However, it is an immature work written in a style so concise as to appear almost light, and is not the masterwork that it is claimed to be despite its undoubted virtues of accuracy and honesty. The author - as I'm sure he would admit - was to compose better works.
on 20 April 2006
Okonkwo epitomized a die-hard African traditionalist with a firm conviction in the destiny of his people, yet a man who failed to accept the inevitable changes in his world. Things fall apart exposes us to the culture of the Ibo people of Nigeria and brings out the characters to the understandable to the reader. In our own little ways, we are like Okonkwo, caught in a world where we have little influence. The lesson is that No matter how powerful we are, we should not impose our wills on others, especially a will that reflects our egos and not the interest of humanity. Clash of cultures is what this book tells us about. Just as in THE USURPER AND OTHER STORIES, NO LONGER AT EASE,THE OLD MAN AND THE MEDAL, TRIPLE AGENT DOUBLE CROSS, one gets a better idea of what Africans and other native peoples went through after being left with no choice but to accept the values and laws of the foreign powers that came into their lives.
This the story of the downfall of Okonkwo, a proud but violent man, and village Ibo culture though the coming of the missionaries. Achebe writes in a flat nonjudgmental style describing both the good and the bad aspects of day to day village life, dominated by superstition but for all that functioning and structured. The arrival of the white missionaries and the villagers response to that brings it crashing down. By the end it reminded a little of animal farm, looking from Ibo to missionary and seeing neither superior to the other.
With Achebes flat style it's not exactly a gripping read, but it's an intriguing and memorable one.
on 10 December 2015
Okonkwo, a proud member of an Ibo village in Nigeria, is exiled for seven years along with his family, after a tragedy. When he returns, the white men have arrived with their laws and religion, and the old ways and customs are being eroded.
After a shaky start, where I struggled to get the Ibo names in my head and sort out who was who, I got into this short tale. The first part, describing village life is simple and innocent, where history and tradition play a big part. Then we move to the exile where Okonkwo builds a new, but temporary life in the village of his maternal family. The final bit is the return home to find that the white men who seemed so comical and inconsequential to begin with, are enforcing laws that the villagers can hardly comprehend, and tearing apart the fabric of the whole way of life that had seemed natural for so long. An interesting read.
on 10 March 2003
A landmark novel which tells the story of Okonkwo and his family, and through that, the tale of his tribe and the fate of many others like it as colonial rule and the missionaries made their presence felt.
What marks this book out is its refusal to resort to a black-and-white picture of events. Okonkwo is no hero; the whites are not inherently evil; the tribal way is not always 'honourable', but nor are the tribes 'civilised' by the colonial process. There are victims of both ways of doing things, and this is a tragic story to say the least - but it is an incredibly important one, beautifully written with an almost mythic quality. A book you'll always remember.