Things fall apart

by Chinua Achebe

Paperback, 1994

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Anchor Books, 1994

Description

[This book is] a simple story of a "strong man" whose life is dominated by fear and anger ... Uniquely ... African, at the same time it reveals [the author's] ... awareness of the human qualities common to men of all times and places.-Back cover.

Media reviews

Set in the late 19th century, at the height of the "Scramble" for African territories by the great European powers, Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, a proud and highly respected Igbo from Umuofia, somewhere near the Lower Niger. Okonkwo's clan are farmers, their complex society a patriarchal, democratic one. Achebe suggests that village life has not changed substantially in generations. The first part of a trilogy, Things Fall Apart was one of the first African novels to gain worldwide recognition: half a century on, it remains one of the great novels about the colonial era.
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[Achebe] describes the many idyllic features of pre-Christian native life with poetry and humor. But his real achievement is his ability to see the strengths and weaknesses of his characters with a true novelist's compassion.

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
I suspect that this book is going to humble me as much in the reviewing as it did in the reading. I picked it up on a whim, a smug ol' consumerist "Haven't read Things Fall Apart yet" global liberal elite whim. Which is a hard term to apply to oneself, "liberal elite", especially if one's politics are such as to lead one to use the term in the first place. But here's the thing: I'm reading about the slow sad downfall of Umuofia, and wondering why it is that "divide and conquer" actually works. Like, I get why the most vicious wars are civil wars, because there's nobody else in the picture, so you can just tear at each other till exhaustion. But to my mind, if my village or my country and the next polity over are engaged in a death struggle and then people with different customs and clothes show up and start trying to impose them on us--we unite. We fight back. Right?


Only historically, and let me immediately qualify that historically by glossing it as basically "over the long sad history of European colonialism" (even if that's only slightly less ludicrous a generalization), that's not the case, is it? The Spaniards show up in Mesoamerica and immediately find Tlaxcalans willing to work with them to bring the Aztecs down. The British arrive in India and find client kingdoms aplenty and play them off against each other in an ugly cycle. Europeans bring Christianity to West Africa and find plenty of downtrodden people willing to lick spittle.


It's almost bewilderingly complex to get your head around without making any stupid generalizations. But here are a couple that I hope are only moderately stupid:


1. Everyone always underestimates the Europeans at first. We have hindsight, and the benefit of growing up within a smugly dominant Western civ, to say to us "take them seriously. Remember the Azetecs." The Aztecs (of course) don't have that opportunity. But I feel like that's not good enough--like, why is everybody so secure that their practices and their gods are the best on the world and will thrive and dominate effortlessly? I guess in the case of Umuofia, it's because they always have. It's in part a matter of limited horizons.


It's in part also because from within a 21st-century society of planners, it's hard to think about what a farming and warring society is like. I bet Okonkwo would have nothing but scorn for a Bush-era America, a superpower scared of its shadow. I may have made similar remarks. It makes me think of the upbeat to World War I, how a little less fear could have changed things. So is the answer just Aristotle? "Sometimes we exercise too little caution and are brash, sometimes too much and are fearful; both are problematic"? Shit, this is the worst review ever.


2. It's the people on the bottom who betray the common good. Because the destruction of your society is pretty fucking abstract compared to your father kicking you, Nwoye, around because you're one of the "useless people"; it's as hard to be weak in a warrior society as it is to be poor in a capitalist society, and in either case you're afraid, and thus any turn of the wheel you rationalize will be a turn for the better. I grew up safe within the dominant culture and full of food and opportunities, and my Canadian class-warrior schtick just effaces the truer way in which I'm an exploiter, prosperity built on the crimes of the past and the asymmetrical relations thereby begotten.


But all this whingy guilting and self-centred groping after explains just doesn't seem like enough. It's a testament to Achebe's art, though several degrees removed by this point, that [Things Fall Apart]drums up these feelings/questions in me. He evokes a fascinating world, tabulates the inside of the Heart of Darkness in the plain English that demystifies it for the colonizer, and it's shitty that that has to be done but it's also invaluable. And we respond to it likewise--tabulate, study, theorize, try to understand. Get a really good idea for a conference paper and write a librarything post asking for resources and say "I've already got a title: "Mumbo Jumbo and Evil Forest: Spirit language and ritual masquerade in Park's Travels and Achebe's Things Fall Apart". You flatter yourself that you're doing right after all the wrong--not that you spend a lot of time thinking it, you're not spectacularly right, just quietly, smugly, on the good side of history.


But Achebe's got your number, and when you hit the last page, he's set it up on purpose just to devastate you. "The story of this man who had killed himself and hanged a messenger would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter, but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger."


There's a tonne to say about this book, but I don't know how to say it without being that guy, that smug, exoticizing, filthy Euroimperialist guy. I don't have the language--and Achebe's already come to me and written in mine. So I'll just leave it--maybe come back to it later--but leave this failure up. It's good for a member of the global liberal elite to fail now and then. It's not like there'll ever be as much at stake as there was for Okonkwo.


Read Things Fall Apart.
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LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
“Things fall apart” is apparently often topping lists of the most beloved African novels. It’s easy to see why. For a continent with a colonial past, this novel of imperialism and old ways dying has so sum up a shared historical experience. It tells the story of Okonkwo, a self-made man in an Ibo village somewhere in inland Nigeria. He is competent, intelligent and strong, but his fear of ever showing weakness is making life miserable for both himself and the people around him. This slim novel, straight, simple and effective in its style, tells the story of Okonkwo’s twofold fall: first his fall from social status within his culture, and then the fall of that culture itself, with the arrival of the white man and his religion.

I really like how Achebe is telling from within the Ibo culture. The world of the village, with it’s customs of polygamy, worship of spirits and infanticide is not presented as exotic, but rather as the norm. He’s not dumbing it down for a western reader who doesn’t share this history, but at the same time has a great way of giving out information. I never feel excluded. Rather the opposite – I get interested in learning more about a lot of the customs presented in this book.

Okonkwo is not a likeable character, and has a very different moral, but I still feel connected, and his dilemmas are real to me. And Achebe’s calm way of telling this story without ever raising his voice is extremely effective, not least in the dramatic passages. There are several events here that had me draw my breath in horror. But really, the pages flew by when he was telling me about yam farming or market day too. And the ending was heartbreaking in all its pettiness. Great stuff.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
This book is beautifully written with sparse prose that uses simple words to convey complex, layered connotations. It reads like an allegory or a parable, and yet, it is more than that. Achebe uses language in a way which reminds me of what Hemingway achieved: tell the story, don't explain it, don't use big words when small ones will do, don't say more than you need to. The result, in Achebe's hands, is almost lyrical:

"Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand....Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic....It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father's failure and weakness....And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion- to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and the other was idleness."

Thus, before the end of chapter two, the reader understands what drives the main character Okonkwo and also what his fatal flaw is- he refuses to be a failure as his father before him, but in rejecting the bad traits, he also rejects those traits that were good. This story follows Okonkwo from his remembrance of his childhood to the end of his years and shows the demise of an African tribe as outside forces forever change a way of life.

"The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."

The story is an old one, a familiar one. And yet, its message resonates with every generation:

"A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so....I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship. You do not know what it is to speak with one voice."
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LibraryThing member lilyfathersjoy
My elder daughter is reading this for a literature course, right after tackling Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. This is an interesting juxtaposition. Conrad is writing about one white man's view of the Congo in the nineteenth century; Achebe is writing from several viewpoints of people dwelling in Nigerian villages in the mid-twentieth century.

I was most impressed, especially after slogging through Heart of Darkness, with the humanity of the characters in Things Fall Apart. Achebe tells the tale, which is a series of incidents over a period of several years, by falling into step with different characters, showing their feelings and experience, before moving to another. We hear the viewpoints of elders, fathers, mothers, children, even missionaries and District Commissioners with surprisingly little judgment. Achebe simply illustrates by a certain remoteness in his narrative how world views collide. The ultimate victim is, of course, the man who has held most unwaveringly and without question to what he believes is right. Whether he is right isn't really the issue; by the end of the story we understand why he thinks he's right. This is more than can be said of any character in Heart of Darkness.

I understand that Chinua Achebe was a vociferous critic of Heart of Darkness; reading both books together helps a great deal in understanding why he felt as he did.
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LibraryThing member eldang
Wow. For the first half of this book I thought it a bit artless and frustrating, but it turns into a very much cleverer and more subtle work than I had been expecting. Ultimately the book is utterly damning about colonialism without ever romanticising what came before it.

I feel weird tagging "spoilers" about a book the outlines of which are pretty well known, and the plot of which is basically described in the publisher blurb, but in spite of all that there were some surprises as I went, so here goes:

First of all, there is one thing that annoyed me intensely through the entire book: the complete lack of any development of female characters or voices. I can imagine a defence of that in terms of the book describing two intensely patriarchal cultures and their meeting, but I'm still digesting Achebe's critique of Conrad. One of his more on-point criticisms is that Conrad writes about colonialism in Africa without ever giving a single African character a real voice - it's fair, but then it rankles to see Achebe do exactly the same thing to women, especially in a book that's partly about brutal patriarchy.

The first part of the book, describing the traditional society that existed before colonisation, is an interesting mixture of pastoral and horrifying. It's not hard to see how people would value what they had, and find its disruption by outside forces intensely painful, but there's also plenty about it that is terrible. Not only the status of women (property whose only apparent chance at any agency at all is by cheating on the husband they didn't necessarily get to choose), but murder of twins, mutilation of sick childrens' corpses, and casting out of men who don't fit a very specific mould. At first I was frustrated by Achebe's stalwart refusal to allow a hint of judgement on any of this; by the end I saw it as a real strength of his writing.

Once things do start to fall apart, I came to appreciate that by keeping any editorialising out of the way, Achebe was able to let his characters and story say all that needed to be said about their own society. The real genius of the book is in its dissection of how weaknesses in the existing culture allowed missionaries to make inroads, how effectively the missionaries manipulated this (often without seeming to understand what they were doing), and yet how disastrous this all was for the people it happened to in spite of the completely unvarnished portrayal of what they had before.
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LibraryThing member t1bnotown
Possible spoiler alert:

We read this senior year of high school in our World Lit class. The main thing about this book is that the title is incredibly apt: it's a novel about everything being destroyed. We see African culture and traditions being lost as the culture of the white missionaries takes over. Granted, we see some negatives as well as positives in the old culture (I remember a group of people not being allowed to shave their heads because they were outcasts), but this book still gets at why missionaries bother me. What right does someone have to go into another group of people and tell them that their way of life is wrong? At any rate, I enjoyed reading about something relatively new for me, even if I was also reading about it being destroyed.… (more)
LibraryThing member browner56
One of the chief functions of a good novelist is to challenge the way that the reader sees the world, a task that can be accomplished either subtly or dramatically. In "Things Fall Apart," Achebe manages to confront his audience both ways. Told from the perspective of the Ibo tribesmen in Nigeria, the story revolves around the complex structures that define a society and how the imposition of an outside belief system can destroy that culture.

To Achebe’s great credit, the assignment of labels such as 'good' and 'bad' are not nearly as black and white as the characters that populate the book. It is at once a heart-breaking and thought-provoking work, particularly for anyone who thinks that Joseph Conrad’s "Heart of Darkness" is the definitive statement on the personal and societal impacts of colonialism.
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LibraryThing member ex_ottoyuhr
To hear the author tell it, this is an anti-colonial novel, but it's oddly ineffective that way. The Igbo people, depicted (I'd guess) pretty faithfully here, are honestly living a wretched way of life -- debased, superstitious, savage, treating their women horribly, and continually in fear of the evil spirits they've unleashed on other clans, but have since lost the instructions for. The colonization of the region and the coming of Christian missionaries, who can at least teach these people how to not be (literally!) afraid of their own shadows, and how to wage war without brutality and human sacrifice, was honestly something I was rooting for -- despite the large problems that occur here. What can I say? I have a low opinion of people who kill ambassadors, no matter how misguided they may be. Ask me about the Summer Palace sometime...

(As you might guess from my speaking about the events instead of the book itself, this is extremely well-done. It's apparently a common curriculum item in Hating the West 101 classes, but if you missed it in college, you really ought to read it now.)

Like _The Good Earth_ (not the only way it's like it, IMHO), it has two sequels you've never heard of, _Arrow of God_ and _No Longer at Ease_. I mean to look these up, and the curious reader of this book will probably want to do the same.
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LibraryThing member Terpsichoreus
Like the bloom of Native American novels of the late seventies, this book does not come from another culture. It does not represent an original or alternate storytelling tradition. This is literature that has already been colonized. It has already moved from the oral to the written, even taking the form of the quentessential western novel.

It is a tragic form of the monomyth, taking its cues from the Greeks, and from Shakespeare. I don't mean to say that it fails to represent the African cultural experience, but by Achebe's time, it is a culture already colonized, already subjugated; the waters have been muddied.

It is a tale of personal disintegration representing the loss of a culture, and of a purpose. It is an existential mode seen in Arthur Miller, Joseph Heller, and J.D. Salinger.

Achebe shows his hand a bit with the title, taken from one of the most famous poems in the English canon. Achebe reminds us that he is the consummate western man of letters, and the story he tells should be familiar to us. Ever since Socrates drank the hemlock, the west has had a complex relationship with its remarkable minds. They are held up one moment, and destroyed the next.

Likewise, the experience of Achebe and Africa is not new, they suffer from the same religious and moral dominance that was placed over Ireland and America. The same dominant force of any power that sought to extend itself, and to absorb its new subjects.

Like James Joyce, Achebe writes of the struggles both of his culture and of himself as an artist. His existentialism is remarkable in its completeness. There is no character who is wholly sympathetic, nor wholly vile. There is no culture or point of view which is either elevated or vilified.

Achebe is extremely fair, presenting the flaws of all men, and all of the organizations under which they live, be they Western or African. Like Heller or Miller, his representation of mankind is almost unfailingly negative. Small moments of beauty, joy, or innocence are always mitigated. They exist only in the inflated egos of the characters, or the moralizing ideals of the culture.

Unlike Miller, he does not give us a moment to sympathize. There are not those quiet moments of introspection that make 'Death of a Salesman' so personally tragic. Unlike Heller, Achebe does not contrast the overwhelming weight of loss with sardonic and wry humor. This is not the irony of Candide, nor the mad passion of Hamlet.

Achebe's characters do not find their own meaning in hopelessness, nor do they struggle to find it and fail, they cannot even laugh at themselves. They persist only through naivete and escapism, and since the reader sees through them, we see that this world has only despondence and delusion.

The constant reminder of this disappointment makes the book difficult to connect with. Since all the hope we are given is almost immediately false, there is little to be lost. Everything is already lost, but the characters do not yet realize it.

It is difficult to court the reader's sympathy when there is nothing left to be lost. With no counterpoint to the hopelessness, it is hard to build a story, to reveal, or to surprise. Trying to write a climax through such a depression is like trying to build a mountain in a valley.

No matter how hard we try, there is no guarantee for our success. Nothing is certain, and the odds against us are often overwhelming. Achebe felt this doubly, as an author and a colonized citizen. He succeeds in presenting hopelessness, sometimes reaching Kierkegaard's Absurdism, but with little weighed against it, his tale presents only a part of the human experience.

Though we may know that others suffer, this is not the same as understanding their suffering. The mother who says 'eat your peas, kids are starving in Africa' succeeds more through confusion than from revealing the complexities of politics and the human state.

Achebe presents suffering to us, but it is not sympathetic, so we see it, but may have trouble feeling it. His world loses depth and dimension, becomes scattered, and while this does show us the way that things fall apart, particularly all things human, this work is more an exercise in nihilism than a representation of the human experience.
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LibraryThing member tracyfox
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is a compelling character study set in a Nigerian village at the turn of the last century. The story chronicles the first encounters between the polytheistic Igbo people and Christian missionaries. Obligations to the gods, cultural taboos regarding twins, the disabled and death, and unanticipated pronouncements from oracular priests and priestesses all govern the tribe's communal decision-making. Strictly delineated roles for men, women and children and tribal titles granting tribe members privileges such as harvesting palm wine govern day-to-day life. Okonkwo, a young Igbo man hoping to better himself despite his shamefully indolent father, feels these pressures acutely but manages for the most part to push ahead in the tribal hierarchy without making waves. The tribe's routines are upset when a priest erects a chapel in the evil forest where twins and outcasts are sent to live apart from the villages. Predictably, things fall apart. As Oberieka, one of the Igbo elders, put it: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was its depiction of Igbo tribal rites and the way the author used conversations between Igbo elders and the Christian missionaries to explain the interrelationships between the pantheon of Igbo gods and the tribe's animistic practices. I feel like I now have at least a concrete examples of how a polytheistic African religion weaves in and out of daily life. That is not to say that the specifics of that religion left me unmoved. At various points in the story, I longed for someone to step forward and put an end to the violence against women, the practice of leaving unwanted infants to die in the forest, and the senseless sacrifice of innocent children, but was disappointed.
Another thing I did like about the book was its explosive ending. I felt it resolved all the major plot turns, without tumbling into a predictable, overly tidy end. The bitterly ironic comment that concludes the story was a graceful end note.

I would recommend this book to anyone wanting an interesting introduction to black African literature. In some ways, the book so closely mirrors a Greek tragedy that it's hard to forget you are reading a title common on high school world literature reading lists. On the other hand, it's an excellent read that can be enjoyed in just a few evenings and it's on those reading lists for a reason.
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LibraryThing member gbill
I didn't like it. Gives an insight into another culture and time but the writing and story are weak. It's also unpleasant to read; mutilations, misogyny, cruelty to children, etc. pretty much throughout. I kept hoping it would round a corner but it never did, and I was glad when it ended.
LibraryThing member dhoekman
This book follows a man's life in tribal village life in Nigeria. The man has great ambition but little love for others and even less gentleness. The book is very descriptive and anthropological (about everyday life and customs, especially religious beliefs). British government and religion (Christian missionaries) enter the scene about halfway through the book and most of the cultural rules and norms of the indigenous people fall apart. This is seen as a very bad thing through the eyes of the main character, because he is heavily invested and quite successful in the power structure of his culture.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Okonkwo is a Nigerian tribesman, well-known and respected in his community, Umuofia. He has risen above his father Unoka's reputation as a lazy do-nothing. He has three wives and several children. And yet Okonkwo is insecure and easily angered. His anger gets the better of him, and he is exiled from the community for seven years. When he returns, white missionaries have settled in the area, threatening the peace and livelihood of the native people.

The first part of this book is a slow reveal of Nigerian village life. Daily chores, rites of passage. and descriptions of spiritual life are strung together in an almost disjointed fashion. By developing such a vivid picture in the reader's mind, Achebe is then able to quickly show the contrast and impact of the missionaries. This classic work has been on my TBR pile ever since I read Half of a Yellow Sun last year. I had very high expectations, especially since this is one of the "1001 books to read before you die", but it failed to live up to my expectations. In the end, I found it to be "just OK."
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LibraryThing member billmcn
As a novel, pretty dry: the sort of thing college sophomores dutifully plod through. But given the paucity of African perspectives on colonialism in the western popular imagination, Things Fall Apart has a historical and political significance that extends beyond its literary merits. Comparing this book to his incisive response to Conrad's Heart of Darkness makes me suspect that Achebe is at his best as a non-fiction writer.… (more)
LibraryThing member patito-de-hule
The story of a village during colonization of Nigeria. I loved this novel so much because of the splendid characterization of Oknokwo. He reminded me of a friend I had when I lived in Nigeria and I really felt I knew him by the time I finished the novel.
LibraryThing member Greatrakes
A novel about West Africa and about the corrosive effects of colonialism, but above all a novel about the decline and fall of one man, Okonkwo. A classic story of a young man with a feckless father who makes something of his life by force of will and hard work, and yet his impatience and obsessive drive is also his downfall.

The book is entirely non-polemical, a cool description of parallel destructions: a man and an entire civilisation. Not only that, but also a fascinating and detailed look at Igbo society, and all in one hundred and fifty pages.

If I hadn't also read God of Small Things this month this would have been my favourite read of 2007.
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LibraryThing member emmakendon
I read this in a sort of trilogy, part 1 being Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', and part 2 being Cary's excellent 'Mr Johnson'. Another short book, it was an excellent response to the former, picking up on Conrad's Marlow being lost in the space he was inhabiting, and putting Okonkwo in that place, and taking on Mr Johnson's actual dangerous streak within a nice guy and turning it on its head. As a read this book isn't sticking with me as much as Mr Johnson, but much of that is probably down to my inability to remember unfamiliar Nigerian names, but the customs are brilliantly illustrated, and the disagreement between clans about beliefs. The stark difference between genuinely well-meaning Christian missionary and violent blinkered one is excellently handled and completely hurtles the book to its end and its title.… (more)
LibraryThing member jmoncton
Things Fall Apart is not an enjoyable read, but, it is the type of book that makes you question values and actions. I can completely understand why so many schools have this on their required reading list. Set in Nigeria, the book first describes pre-colonial life. Some of the customs were horrific by Western standards, but did that justify colonization and imposing western values? Important book to read, but not at all light.


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LibraryThing member -Eva-
This is an evocative tale of life in the Nigerian village of Umuofia at the end of the 1800s, mainly focusing on the life of Okonkwo, a fearless warrior, and his family. The book is obviously a classic, even held up as the "archetypal modern African novel," but at the same time incredibly readable. Okonkwo is not a very appealing character, but because of his conservative stance regarding traditions, he is the perfect protagonist for the reader to view the village and the changes that come about; although the rituals that the Igbo practice are quite brutal, Okonkwo manages to make them seem almost (if not completely) reasonable, and what is really interesting is how Achebe manages to describe these traditions, compare them with the "milder" missionary rituals, and make the Igbo come across as the more tolerant and open-minded of the two cultures. My favorite part is the voice that Achebe has chosen to tell the story - while reading, you get the feeling that you're listening to an episodic oral folktale since even the oddest occurrences are mentioned as fact and the main gist of the story is the outcome, like it is in a fable.… (more)
LibraryThing member amaraki
'The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act as one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together, and now we have fallen apart.'
LibraryThing member FicusFan
This is a book set in Nigeria and looks at life in a village of the Ibo people before and just after the arrival of white men.

It is very simply written with a lot of words in the Ibo language. Many are very difficult, if not impossible to pronounce. They are also often used without explanation, so you don't always know if they are referring to a person, another village, a people, or a god until you read more. It distracts from the experience.

The book follows the head of a family called Okonkwo (OK). He is grown when the story starts, but it looks back and his childhood and his father and their relationship. It is that relationship that defines who OK wants to be, and how he models his life and his demeanor. Unfortunately he is reacting against the laziness, and inconsequential thoughts and actions of his father. OK wants to be big and important in the village. He also abandons the kindness of his father, seeing that as more evidence of weakness.

OK is not a nice man, and not a likable character. He is a bully, hard hearted, and violent. He treats his wives and children badly, often beating them. He even goes so far as to participate in the clan ordered murder of the teen ward who was living in his house and calling him father.

This book doesn't whitewash the deficits of village life: they live in the dirt, they seem to eat Yams exclusively, they are afraid of imaginary beings, they are afraid of the dark, they beat women and kill children, especially twins. Twins must be thrown into the forest right after birth, They believe in evil children that repeatedly are reborn and die, doing so to vex their parents. Brutal actions are allowed to discourage these doomed children from returning.

OK eventually falls victim to his own brutality. He kills a clan member with his gun, during a celebration. Because the clan judges it an accident he is only exiled for 7 years. He and his family flee to the village of his mother.

During his time of exile the white men slowly start to arrive and infiltrate their lives. The whites bring stores and pay money for the items the Ibo gather; they bring their laws and government which are foreign and unknown to the Ibo. The men they use as translators, functionaries, and enforcers are all from other tribes and don't know the Ibo customs. They also have their own power trip going to enhance their own positions, without the knowledge of the white men. The white men bring their religion - which says all are equal. This upsets the society of the Ibo which is based on a hierarchy of the titled/respected ordering the actions of those lower than they are, all the way down to the outcasts.

Because the Ibo let them in, and are even interested in the new stores and religion, they are slowly overwhelmed. The white men impose their laws, judge cases according to white law and enact punishments including the death penalty. OK is unable finally to accept being subject to them and their law. It ends tragically.

It is sad to see a people not given a voice in how their lives are ordered, and given no choice about change. The white men are appalled by the violence of the Ibo, but see nothing wrong with imposing their own violence in the name of the laws of their Queen. A recurring theme in disputes of all cultures even today.

The story shows the Ibo and the others in Nigeria participated in their own destruction, seduced by the new and the different. Some of their own people participated helping the colonization to advance. It seems a timely warning for today, because we seem willing to throw away our culture and freedom for convenience and safety.
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LibraryThing member MiserableLibrarian
This is the story of Okonkwo, a native African (Igbo) man, and his three families. Following an accidental shooting, Okonkwo is exiled from his village for seven years. Upon returning, he finds village life changed by the arrival of white missionaries. In addition to being a piece of truly African literature, this tale deals with timeless and cross-cultural issues such as masculinity, family, and personal growth.… (more)
LibraryThing member maryreinert
This is not your typical novel. The language, style, and syntax are definitely not American/European. That did take me just a bit to get used to. But as it reads on page 7: "The art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten." Throughout the book, proverbs, metaphors, and descriptive language paint the picture of life in the African Ibo culture. In places the language of the book is biblical feeling.

I will admit the very foreign names of the characters were sometimes difficult to keep straight, but the personalities of those individuals came through for me. The main character, Okonkwo, is a flawed character. He might not be admirable, but he was definitely believable. The interaction of the characters is not what we are used to, but isn't that the point of good literature--allowing us to become someone so totally different than ourselves.

The first part of the book sets the stage for what happens in the rest. The reader is introduced to Ibo lifestyle and thinking. The accidental killing of another man turns the story sharply into a new direction. Now we see the Ibo culture directly up against western civilization. But it didn't turn the book into a good culture/bad culture clash. It simply portrayed the fear of change from the familiar to a life of total contradiction from what was long believed to be true. And how many today are struggling with that same fear of the future which is turning over what we thought were truths? This is more than just an outward struggle between the Ibo culture and the white Christian missionaries. It is the struggle of one man's life as the things fall apart around him.

I especially appreciated the author's portrayal of the missionary Mr. Brown who spent hours talking with the Ibo. "Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs." Wonder what our world would be like if that was the norm rather than the position taken by his successor, Mr. Smith.

The ending of this is almost anticlimatic, but so well drawn. The Commissioner and Okonkwo may be from completely different cultures, but their pride and hopes for their own future are cut from the same cloth. The last sentence revealing the title of the Commissioner's book is irony that slaps the reader in the face.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
'Things Fall Apart' has been described as Africa's "best-loved novel", read widely not only in Nigeria, where it was written in 1958, but across the entire African continent; it is studied and taught in Europe and North America where 100s of papers and dozens of major studies have been written; it is said that in Australia or India it is the only African novel that most people know about. It has been called the "archetypal modern African novel written in English". [See Kwame Anthony Appiah's excellent "Introduction" in the Everyman's Library edition.]

The novel is about an African tribe along the Niger River that experiences British colonialism around the turn of the 20th century. The first 2/3's of this short novel establish the customs and day to day life focused on one man and his family named Okonkwo. Into this arrive "white men" (British) who begin to change things, until eventually "things fall apart" leading to Okonkwo's death. The novel is not a "black and white" story of heroes and villains, of romantic old-world customs destroyed by modernity - rather the old customs have good and bad points, the British have good and bad points - even the hero of the novel, Okonkwo, is fairly unlikeable in many respects. The subtle balance between the good and negative gives the novel a great deal of believability, re-readability and instruction.

Although we learn a lot about the specifics of the Ibo-speaking people along the Niger (historically accurate as Achebbe was born into that culture) the novel transcends the tribe, even Africa. It provides a realistic window into what it is like for tribal people who are being globalized - from Native Americans in the age of Columbus, to present-day Amazonians. This first-hand subjective experience of the novel transcends the many lengthy tombs of history and anthropological studies of colonization.
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LibraryThing member wendyrey
Well crafted book that can be read in two ways. It could first be seen as the story of a society and its travails with a hostile invading colonising force. Alternatively and more universally, of a man who covers his insecurity with a bluff manly exterior that becomes a rigid façade. When faced with major change in his society and life his exterior persona crumbles and he is no longer able to cope to the extent that he commits suicide.
First class book.
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