Thursday, April 21, 2022

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart
by Chinua Achebe
212 pages
Read by Peter Francis James
Published 1958

Publisher's Summary: 
Okonkwo is born into poverty, with a wastrel for a father. Driven by ambition, he works tirelessly to gain the prosperity of many fields and wives and prestige in his village. But he is harsh as well as diligent. As he sees the traditions of his people eroded by white missionaries and government officials, he lashes out in anger. Things Fall Apart traces the growing friction between village leaders and Europeans determined to save the heathen souls of Africa. But its hero, a noble man who is driven by destructive forces, speaks a universal tongue.

My Thoughts: 
I'll be honest, I know this one is considered a classic (I know because it's on my Classics Club list) but I really struggled with understanding why for most of the book. Perhaps that has something to do with how I read it; this one turned out to be a listen/read/listen one for me when my audiobook loan expired and then I chose to check it out again. Perhaps it's because I read it through the prism of my own moral expectations, judging Okonkwo by standards that wouldn't have applied to him. As time has passed, as the lessons of the book have sunk in, I'm finding a greater appreciation for the book, especially in light of the era in which it was written. Still, because of all of this, I'm struggling with putting my thoughts into words. Instead, let me give you this from Kirkus Reviews (and if you've been here long, you know how rare it is for me to even agree with Kirkus Reviews, let alone defer to them so that will tell you something about how much I love this review):
"Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor."
That last line - wow! It makes it so clear why this book is considered so important. I do highly recommend that you listen to this one if you choose to pick it up; instead of stumbling over names I can't figure out how to pronounce (if even in my own head), the book flows smoothly and the names no longer feel foreign. 

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