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4.5 out of 5 stars
275
4.5 out of 5 stars
Things Fall Apart (Penguin Red Classics)
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on 17 October 2017
The first English novels, appearing in the eighteenth century, were heavily influenced by an earlier tradition of Christian morality tract. This sense of teaching some kind of moral lesson has remained a characteristic feature of novels ever since. Of course, in the world of the secular novel, morality generally becomes a difficult thing, very different from the simple portrayal of appropriate reward and punishment for various types of behaviour.

Things Fall Apart is an interesting twist on this, written in English by African author Chinua Achebe, portraying a culture far removed from that of England. The book describes the life of a man called Okonkwo, who struggles to reach the heights of his traditional tribal society in late nineteenth century Nigeria. His rise up the greasy pole is made difficult, both by the arcane rules of his own society, and by those of English missionaries, who arrive in Nigeria. In the Nigerian culture, morality is hugely important. However, the details of what is considered right and wrong are profoundly different to that of Victorian England. In this story of a collision of values, we learn that the instinct to define correct behaviour is deeply ingrained in people the world over. Actual rights and wrongs, however, are virtually arbitrary. People could be considered bad, and win praise for it; or they can be deemed good, yet fall foul of the law through no fault of their own.

Reading about Okonkwo’s life, I couldn’t help thinking of Oscar Wilde, living in London at about the same time, facing a society which defined homosexuality as a crime beyond any other. One day that worst of crimes would not be a crime at all. In writing about this kind of impermanence of right and wrong, Oscar Wilde could also be summing up Things Fall Apart:

“A man cannot always be estimated by what he does. He may keep the law, and yet be worthless. He may break the law, and yet be fine. He may be bad, without ever doing anything bad. He may commit a sin against society, and yet realise through that sin his true perfection.”
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on 20 September 2017
the book cover does not look like the first, main picture, which is a problem when studying it and having to have the exact same book as the rest of the class. And the order took over a week to come, but all in all the book fits its description of being brand new.
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on 27 September 2017
Such a good book! Finished in 3days.
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on 1 October 2017
Very classical fictional presentation of the clash of civilisations. Unsurpassable usage of language by an iconic writer. Very enlightening read for me.
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on 1 July 2013
A fantastic read and the story told is so vivid that putting down the book was a challenge.
Simply an imaginative book by a great African writer.
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on 5 December 2016
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart uniquely transcends its reader to a whole new world, and offers an invitation to an awakened imagination. Centered around Okonkwo - a wrestling champion and acclaimed warrior of Umuofia - the book sheds light on the value of Igbo culture, beliefs and traditions, and the historical dependence on deism and religion as a determinant of fate. Achebe delves into precolonial Igboland, using proverbs, folklore and the Igbo language to highlight indigenous social and cultural norms. The author subtly renders the conception of colonialism as an extension of enlightenment and revolution as a fallacy, and though imperfect, illustrates a demise in the system of self governance and the use of Igbo language, following the invasion of European missionaries and governments.

Wherever possible, Okonkwo never failed to seize the opportunity to express his masculinity. Through the village fights, meetings with the elders and interactions with his family members, the preservation of his tough, manly, undefeated and fearless figure was of paramount importance. So much so that he coldly murdered Ikemefuna - who looked up to him as a father - just to protect this ‘masculine’ image. The irony in Okonkwo’s story is the fact that the display of masculinity and the desire to be feared and respected was an exhibition of a different form of fear in itself. That is, the fear of being anything close to the legacy of his late father - lazy, weak, and in turn, feminine. The need to dissociate himself from his father, Unoka, was the bane of Okonkwo’s existence and simultaneously, the shovel for which Okonkwo dug his grave.

The desire to be alienated from the negative legacy of his father is however not synonymous to Okonkwo. It is an innate feature that unconsciously drives majority of people, especially young people. The fear of failing or mirroring the thing(s) loathed in familial relationships, unbeknownst to us, shapes our decisions, and who we strive to be. This, from conversations engaged in with young people, is increasingly apparent in the Nigerian society today. Particularly in broken homes, the residual bitterness that lingers often lays a foundation; for which many tend to build glass houses out of, in the bid to refute certain characteristics of their parent(s).

Conversely, the fear of not living up to one’s parent’s legacy likewise shapes us, and influences the standards we set for ourselves. They redefine our idea of success, and remind us that failure - at any stage in life - is certainly not an option. Equivocally, the fear of failing to walk in - or perhaps, create bigger - footprints of one’s parent often subconsciously becomes one’s biggest conquest in life. Similar to Okonkwo, one is clothed with societal pressure, and the need for recognition and status; armed with the sword of parental burdens, expectations, inadequacies and responsibilities; perpetually fighting to break free from the shadow of the legacy of their parent(s).

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To be considered more of a man - because possessing male genital organs is simply insufficient in Nigeria - one’s assets as well as the number of wives, especially in the precolonial and traditionalist setting, spoke volumes. Mutually non-exclusive, the more wealth and power you possessed either by working hard, claiming titles or winning inter-village fights, the more you were respected as a man by your peers, elders and more importantly, women, in Igboland. This was indeed the case in Umuofia - the village from which Okonkwo’s father hailed, and Okonkwo’s place of residence. His ‘manliness’ as exhibited by the number of fights under his belt not only scored him his title as a clan leader and warrior in Umuofia, but also won him the heart of his second wife, Ekwefi, who had earlier married another man because Okonkwo, at that time, was poor.

Without endorsing the idea of adultery and cautiously noting, the setting of the story portrays polygamy as the true and traditionalist nature of Nigerian men. In precolonial Igboland, as Achebe casts in Things Fall Apart, polygamy and status went hand in hand. In contrast to modern Nigeria where monogamy as enforced by the Christian missionaries is “respected” in most - mainly Christian - households, a man was not a man unless he had more than one wife. Similarly, the ‘real’ men - that is, non-effeminate - were known by the fruits they bore. That is, the number of children they had, and the gender of the offspring - as male children were better valued.

The dominance of men in the household and society is a recurrent theme in Things Fall Apart. As simple as emotions, these were for women...
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on 25 February 2017
This title is one of the few texts I studied back in school that I have been eager to reread. While a quick read through is worthwhile, it can be much more rewarding to spend some extra time exploring the history surrounding the book, and the main themes of culture clash and destiny. Highly recommend this book.
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on 2 September 2016
I approached Achebe's great African trilogy in the wrong order having listened to No Longer At Ease before Things Fall Apart. I think this gave a slightly different perspective on the book as I already knew the story of Okonkwo's grandson and it was interesting to fill how this family had become estranged. I was surprised that our lead character, Okonkwo, is such an essentially unlikeable man. I wonder if he would have seemed such an anachronism in the 1950s though when attitudes all over the world concerning male supremacy and women's rights were very different.

Achebe writes simply, but cleverly so I began to view customs and superstitions within the village as normal, even ideas such as infant death being caused by evil spirits. This meant that I could then easily understand the anger and offence caused by the incoming missionaries with their radical ideas. There is significant repetition of phrases which made listening to the audio version almost like listening to epic poetry or song. For example, Ezinma is rarely named without also being described as the daughter of Ekwefi so relationships and identities are reinforced in the mind of the reader. Things Fall Apart is a great novel of this time and place and, while I don't think I quite enjoyed it as much as No Longer At Ease, I can certainly see why it has endured as a classic.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 January 2015
Easy to read but with a deeper subtext, this is the tale of Okonkwo. Having risen through his own efforts from being son of a wastrel father, he is now an important man in his Nigerian village, a position he jealously guards by ruling his wives and children with an iron hand.
Achebe gives a good picture of what life was like before white settlers came - the superstitions, wars and beheadings of rival clans, the fear of the oracle. And then the first missionaries arrive with their apparently harmless religion, followed by the first administrators, and the clan appears to be 'breaking up and falling apart'...
Vivid and enjoyable portrayal of old Nigeria, leaving the reader uncertain whether 'westernization' was a good thing for the ordinary people.
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on 3 March 2016
I can see how this is an important book, probably more so at the time of its publication than now, and there are many things I liked about it. It introduces me to interesting aspects of a foreign culture, successfully evokes the landscape and sets up complex and compelling tensions within the community and between it and the white European interlopers.

But the plot is patchy and episodic and Okonkwo, although a strong character, isn't explored in enough depth to make his fate feel as tragic as it could have been. I don't know to what extent these issues are attributable to the peculiarities of West African narrative tradition, but they dented my enjoyment of the book. But it's still worth reading.
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