I find it hard to find the right words, the right phrases to write this review. I’ve been trying to start it for a while now but somehow I feel like my words can’t do “Things Fall Apart” justice. I feel like I as a European with my limited eurocentric perspective might not be the right one to write about it. Despite these doubts I’ll attempt to do it anyway because it is a truly fantastic read and I want more people to know this book.
“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe was first published in 1958 and is nowadays considered a classic of African and postcolonial writing. It was not only Achebe’s debut novel but is also considered a milestone for African literature. The success of “Things Fall Apart” also paved way for other African writers and their works to get acknowledged and published.
His novel describes the life of Okonkwo, an Igbo man, and his family. Okonkwo desperately wants to be unlike his father that he considers unmanly for not fitting into the concept of traditional Igbo masculinity. Because of the fear to be unmanly like his father Okonkwo often acts violently and doesn’t allow himself to be soft or show any feelings.
Okonkwo succeeds at first becoming a successful wrestler and farmer and building a large family. However, his fate begins to change when he takes in the boy Ikemefuna as part of a peace settlement with another clan. The boy becomes like a son to him but when the oracle pronounces that the boy must die Okonkwo, out of a fear to be seen as week and unmanly, takes part in his killing. Slowly his world starts falling apart when things start to go wrong for Okonkwo and eventually the white men arrive.
“Things Fall Apart” slowly builds up suspense and tension and keeps it up until the sudden climax. It kept me turning the pages and finishing the book (apart from the first chapter) in one day. The writing is beautiful and full of images and proverbs of the Igbo culture.
It’s structure shows the similarities to the traditional European novel yet it’s fully African (or Nigerian to exact). To me it seemed like Achebe employed these literary patterns and turned the concept around to produce a narrative that presents African culture more accurately and beautifully than any of those novels written about Africa from a European perspective as for example Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. I also recommend reading his essay “The African Writer and the English Language” in which he explains his choice to write in English and what it means for his writing and African writers in general.
“Things Fall Apart” addresses themes as culture and cultural norms, masculinity and gender roles, tradition and colonisation. Okonkwo keeps holding on to his culture, traditions and his traditional idea of masculinity but is confronted with European colonizers who impose their culture, religion and social structures onto his clan. This confrontation with colonial arrogance was as painful to read as Okonkwo’s struggle to relate to others and his own feelings.
It’s a beautiful and impactful novel full of suspense and great writing. Although “Things Fall Apart” is not a particularly happy or enjoyable book I loved every page of it and I’m already looking forward to read the next novel by Achebe.
Have you read this book or another novel by Achebe?
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