Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Review: Things Fall Apart

Title: Things Fall Apart
Author: Chinua Achebe

Pages: 209
Original Publication: 1958

Series: African Trilogy
1. Things Fall Apart (1958)
2. No Longer at Ease (1960)
3. Arrow of God (1964)

Setting: Nigeria in the late 19th century

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Things Fall Apart tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.
The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. Things Fall Apart is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.

This is one of those books that is considered a "classic". It is listed both on the 1001 Books You Should Read Before You Die-list and on Bloom's Western Canon. This always creates a certain wariness within me, because there is always the risk that such classics are written in such a stiff style with such a large amount of moral that it is a pain to read them.

However, I was really surprised how easy this book was to read and how much I enjoyed it. Set in the late 19th century in a small village in Africa, it tells the story of Okonkwo. He once managed to rise from a poor family to become a influential member of his village. Woven into the story are rituals and customs of Nigerian people. We learn how they live their day-to-day life, how they celebrate weddings and what their annual festivals are. Another review of this book said that the reader was confronted with those customs without an explanation and that this made it difficult to understand. I tend to disagree with this opinion. I liked the way the author presented the African culture. It is always easy to understand the meaning of customs and festivals through the context. Of course their way of living is different from that of the modern world. More explanations would only have distracted from the customs. The author took the advice to "show not tell" and did a great job with it. Their life, customs and thinking might be different from ours, but by learning about it from Okonkwo's perspective, I at least was able to understand it.

In addition to this the story has another layer. It shows the arrival of christian missionaries and how they influence the life and customs of the people. These scenes really touched my heart.

In general there are different layers of storytelling and timeframes. The story changes from the present to the past and back. This is a bit confusing, especially at the beginning, but once one gets the hang of it and gets acquainted with the characters, it adds a nice touch to the story and prevents monotony.

This is a classic that really deserves that name. It gives a vivid insight into African culture and tells a great story of the difficulties in life. Recommended reading for everyone. Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

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