At the beginning of the year, I chose to read novels on my bookshelves instead of purchasing new books; let’s see if I succumb to the new gripping releases. For now, the first thing that caught my eye was a Nigerian classic, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read the book previously but vaguely recall the details, so what a great time to reread it with a buddy!
Things Fall Apart is set in Umuofia in the late 19th century and centers around the pre-colonial customs and traditions of the Igbo people. The main character is Okonkwo, who is a renowned wrestler and influential leader in the village. He lives in contentment in Umuofia, his father’s homeland, with his three wives and multiple children following his elders and ancestors’ rules. After a tragic event, Okonkwo and his family live in exile in Mbanta, his mother’s homeland, for seven years. This turn of events is a devastating blow to Okonkwo and causes much anguish; he states, ” His life had been ruled by a great passion – to become one of the lords of the clan. That had been his life-spring. And he had all but achieved it. Then everything had been broken. He had been cast out of his clan like a fish onto a dry, sandy beach, panting”.
During Okonkwo’s exile, noticeable changes are present in all the surrounding villages with the Europeans’ arrival, who introduced Christianity and established their justice system. Okonkwo dismisses all the changes and impatiently awaits his return to Umuofia. Sadly, upon his arrival, his village is unrecognizable, and Okowoko is unable to adapt.
The two central themes that captivated me in this book were masculine toxicity and colonialism. Throughout the novel, Okonkwo ponders what it means to be a man, and this is best illustrated with this following passage: “No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man. What an interesting thought?! This is a man that is a great fighter, well respected, and influential in his clan, but still believed he was inconsequential if he did not have power over his family. He thought they were his possessions, which I found annoying. As if women and children are not their own entities – like what?! I do realize this was set in the 1800s.
One of Okonkwo’s failings was his inability to communicate effectively; thus, he was prone to violence. Since Okonkwo considered his father weak and a failure, his motivation in life was to do the opposite of him, which sometimes led him to foolish actions.
The other thing that outraged me was the arrival of the Europeans. This book does a beautiful job of showing the wickedness of colonialism. Yes, some of the Igbo traditions were crude and hard to stomach; however, it does not give the Europeans the right to dismantle Igbo culture. It’s not like the Europeans’ traditions are perfect, so they had no right to be sanctimonious. I found the whole thing maddening and maybe even more so because of our current climate.
This was a well-written book; I found it enjoyable and highly recommend it to everyone! It was brought to my attention during my buddy discussion that Achebe does a fantastic job demonstrating the Igbo’s customs in a neutral tone, which led me to reflect on what I like best in a book. Thinking more on this matter, I like the neutral style because it lets me discover my own opinion instead of being subtly persuaded by the author. What do you think about a neutral tone? Do you prefer to know the author’s thoughts?
Interested in this book? Click here it buy it on Amazon or find it at a bookstore near you!
I very much liked the tone of the book – I think the way Achebe presents everything without indicating judgement one way or another allows each character to be appreciated for who they are. It would have been easy to make me hate Okonkwo for beating his wives, or the missionaries for being so destructive, but Achebe doesn’t seem to be trying to drive the reader to think in a certain way. It’s easier to see each character as a whole, complete in themself. This novel is beautiful to read!
Yes, he does a good job staying neutral!
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