Saturday, 26 December 2009

Chinua Achebe - Things Fall Apart

This is a tough ask. I had very little experience of Africa, let alone African literature. I was leant this book by a friend and it’s short length - 187 pages - made it a good book to read when travelling on the train. Indeed, it took only two train journeys to go from cover to cover and I was left with a lot of questions, the biggest one being, how can I review this book?

The main character, Okonkwo, is well respected in his village but beats his wives, of which he has three, and his children. At one point in the story, he nearly shoots his second wife for making an apparently snide remark about his gun not working properly and his ability to use it. What a great way to prove her wrong by shooting at her. He misses too.

There are two main parts to the story. At the end of the first, Okonkwo kills his adopted son. He is going to be killed anyway, such is the life and traditions out there, but Okonkwo insists on going with the killing party to prove his worth to tribe, and then showed exactly how much of an asset he is by delivering the killing blow to the child.

The second part involves ‘the white man’ coming to Africa. Despite having severe issues with Okonkwo’s behaviour up to this point, I was on his side when it came to the Christians forcing their religion on the tribes of Africa.

And this is where the book is good, in that it generates different emotions in the reader. I hated Okonkwo form start to finish but at least he had the guts to stand up for what he believed in.

Taking the writing itself into consideration is a task in itself. It has a narrative style similar to The Book of Mormon. It is well written with no mistakes and also contains a glossary explaining all the native words. For me, this wins points over Vikram Seth‘s An Equal Music, as he frequently put in bits in French and German and offered no translations, which I found annoying. A glossary would have been nice in this instance.

However, there were many characters all operating at the same time and with their unfamiliar names it all became a bit confusing. Okonkwo’s first wife is constantly referred to as ‘Nwoye’s mother’ which seems a little degrading considering his other two wives are named.

Recommendations… I would say that if you are interested in looking into African Literature, then Things Fall Apart is a pretty good place to start. If you are already interested in African Literature then you have probably already read it (Things Fall Apart is the most widely read African novel written in English.)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe was published by Heinemann Educational Books Ltd in 1958. RRP £7.99 (Paperback)

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