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May 21, 2018 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Things Fall Apart

Each month, the Salient books team are going to review the books on the program for the Vic Books 2018 Book Club. The third book on the list is Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.

Published in 1959, Things Fall Apart is regarded as one of the seminal texts in modern African literature, and Achebe garnered international acclaim for the book.
The novel is set in southern Nigeria at the turn of the nineteenth century, and follows Okonkwo, an Igbo man who is a well-respected warrior and wrestling champion, and his family and village at the moment of their first contact with European missionaries.

As a fan of literature that explores colonialism as a wider theme, Things Fall Apart was an interesting and engaging read from the beginning. By building up to the central moment in the plot of the first contact between the Igbo people and the Europeans, Achebe constructs an elegant piece of post-colonial literature.

The first section of the novel is dedicated to exploring the customs, spirituality, history, and village life in Umuofia. Elements to this society are completely different to anything that I, and most other people, are used to or know anything about, so reading about things such as oracles, tribal politics, and ritual sacrifices, culminated in a total immersion in this strange and mystical world that the novel takes place in.
The second half of the novel is where the first contact plot line begins. Europeans begin to arrive in the area, and try (rather aggressively) to convert the villagers to Christianity.
Okonkwo is a character that is very easy to dislike. He is harsh, callous, violent, and aggressive, and in many places, it was difficult to push through and read moments of extreme violence towards his wives, children, or slaves. But there are moments when he is a caring and protective father, and he does a lot in service of the greater good of his family and village. As the novel progresses, the latter quality becomes ever more present, as he leads the the fight against the oncoming wave of colonialism to protect his village and way of life.
The hardest part about the novel to read were the moments when gender politics and the role of women were bought up. Purely because of my own beliefs and modern reading, it was hard to reconcile this with the world of the novel where the women are subordinate to the men. The child marriages, slavery, physical violence, and multiple child deaths that the women have to experience in the novel is heartbreaking, and it was a challenge to get through those passages.
However, while most female characters were secondary figures in the novel, Okonkwo’s second wife Ekwefi and her daughter Ezinma are more developed and interesting characters. Both are able to, and are allowed to, stand up to Okonkwo and are feisty, rebellious, and intelligent characters.

Things Fall Apart is a pivotal text in African and post-colonial literature, and Achebe is truly a master writer.

I have never read a book quite like it, and I am floored by its majesty and brilliance.


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