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|Things Fall Apart
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1958
refered to by:
Storm and Echo
The Famished Road
Journey to the End of the Night
Heart of Darkness
The Restless Supermarket
Allah is Not Obliged
The Grass is Singing
|One of Chinua Achebe's many achievements in his acclaimed first novel, Things Fall Apart, is his relentlessly unsentimental rendering of Nigerian tribal life before and after the coming of colonialism. First published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria declared independence from Great Britain, the book eschews the obvious temptation of depicting pre-colonial life as a kind of Eden. Instead, Achebe sketches a world in which violence, war, and suffering exist, but are balanced by a strong sense of tradition, ritual, and social coherence. His Ibo protagonist, Okonkwo, is a self-made man. The son of a charming ne'er-do-well, he has worked all his life to overcome his father's weakness and has arrived, finally, at great prosperity and even greater reputation among his fellows in the village of Umuofia. Okonkwo is a champion wrestler, a prosperous farmer, husband to three wives and father to several children. He is also a man who exhibits flaws well-known in Greek tragedy:
Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious
| gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.
And yet Achebe manages to make this cruel man deeply sympathetic. He is fond of his eldest daughter, and also of Ikemefuna, a young boy sent from another village as compensation for the wrongful death of a young woman from Umuofia. He even begins to feel pride in his eldest son, in whom he has too often seen his own father. Unfortunately, a series of tragic events tests the mettle of this strong man, and it is his fear of weakness that ultimately undoes him.
Achebe does not introduce the theme of colonialism until the last 50 pages or so. By then, Okonkwo has lost everything and been driven into exile. And yet, within the traditions of his culture, he still has hope of redemption. The arrival of missionaries in Umuofia, however, followed by representatives of the colonial government, completely disrupts Ibo culture, and in the chasm between old ways and new, Okonkwo is lost forever. Deceptively simple in its prose, Things Fall Apart packs a powerful punch as Achebe holds up the ruin of one proud man to stand for the destruction of an entire culture.
|ON CHINUA ACHEBE'S BOOKSHELF|
Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad, 1898
Seaman Marlowe journeys deep into the heart of colonial Africa, where he encounters Kurtz, an idealist crazed and depraved by his power over the natives. The meeting prompts Marlowe to reflect on the darkness at the heart of all men.
'The Second Coming'
William Butler Yeats, 1920
Yeats' renowned, apocalyptical poem was first printed in 'The Dial' (1920) and later published in the collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921).
Joyce Cary, 1939
Mister Johnson, an enthusiastic government clerk in Nigeria, assists District Officer Harry Rudbeck in financing a main trade route, which ultimately leads to despair for both men.
Christopher Okigbo, 1986P
Collected poems by Achebe's close friend Okigbo, who died in the Nigerian civil war, in 1967, at the age of 35.
A Passage to India
E.M. Forster, 1924
After a mysterious accident during their visit to the caves, Dr Assiz is accused of assaulting Adela Quested, a naive young Englishwoman. As he is brought to trial, the fragile structure of Anglo-Indian relations collapses and the racism inherent in colonialism is exposed in all its ugliness.
The Heart of the Matter
Graham Greene, 1998
Scobie, a police officer in a West African colony, is a good and honest man. But when he falls in love, he is forced into a betrayal of everything that he has ever believed in, and his struggle to maintain the happiness of two women destroys him.
Charles Dickens, 1849-1850
Nigerian schoolchildren (Achebe, too, in his youth) are required to read a great deal of Western literature, including classics such as this one.
Igbo oral tradition
Chinua Achebe's style relies heavily on the Igbo oral tradition, and combines straightforward narration with representations of folk stories, proverbs, and oratory.
|BOOKS BY CHINUA ACHEBE:|
Things Fall Apart
Portrait of life in a Nigerian village before and after the coming of colonialism.
|WHAT TO READ AFTER THINGS FALL APART?|
The Hidden Force
Louis Couperus, 1900
The decline and fall of the Dutchman Van Oudyck is caused by his inability to see further than his own Western rationalism: he is blind and deaf to the slumbering powers of the East Indian people and countryside.
Max Havelaar or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company
Sending shockwaves through the Dutch nation when it was published in 1860, this damning expose of the terrible conditions in the colonies led to welfare reforms in Java and continues to inspire the fairtrade movement today.
A Bend in the River
V.S. Naipaul, 1979
In an African country that has suffered revolution and civil war and that is headed by a man of almost insane energy and crudity, one restless, reflective, and isolated villager and his friends uneasily submit to the tide of events.
The Grass is Singing
Doris Lessing, 1950
Set in Rhodesia, this is the story of Dick, a failed white farmer and his wife, Mary, dependent and disappointed. Both are trapped by poverty, and in the heat of the brick and tin house, hemmed in by the bush, Mary finds herself seeking solace in the arms of the houseboy.
Maryse Condé, 1984-85
Set in an 18h-century African kingdom, Conde's novel examines the cultural transformations brought about by the rise of Islam and the slave trade.
Forever a Stranger and Other Stories
Hella S. Haasse, 1948
In this collection of stories, the Dutch writer Hella Haasse deals with themes of alienation and estrangement. Born in the Dutch East Indies, Haasse calls up the images, people, and memories of her childhood.
FATHERS AND SONS
Fathers and Sons
Ivan Turgenev, 1862
Arkady Petrovitch returns from college under the spell of a young nihilist called Bazarov, a character who shocked Arkady's father and the Russian public of 1862 with his criticisms of the traditional values of Russian society. In Bazarov, Turgenev created the prototype 'angry young man'.
Of Illustrious Men
Jean Rouaud, 1993
Set in the same region as Fields of Glory, the novel is about the author's father, Joseph, a traveling salesman who died at forty-one and left a family in shock behind him.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Robert M. Pirsig, 1974
This narration of a summer motorcycle trip undertaken by a father and his son becomes a text which speaks directly to the confusions and agonies of existence, detailing a personal, philosophical odyssey.
The Radetzky March
Joseph Roth, 1932
The Radetzky March charts the history of the Trotta family through three generations spanning the rise and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Hermann Hesse, 1922
The spiritual awakening of a man living in India at the time of the Buddha.
Character: A Novel of Father and Son
F. Bordewijk, 1938
The story of a young man growing up in a Rotterdam slum, where his pluck and intelligence serve him well. Yet all his success comes from the desire to spite his violent, grasping, and ruthless father.
OTHER NIGERIAN AUTHORS
Season of Anomy
Wole Soyinka, 1973
This book is based on the writer's thoughts during his imprisonment and confronts the Orpheus and Euridice myth with the mythology of the Yoruba.
The Famished Road
Ben Okri, 1991
Set in the ghetto of an African city during British colonial rule, this rich, phantasmagorical novel follows Azaro, a 'spirit-child' who has reneged on a pact with the spirit world.
Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2006
Set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence.
My Life in the Bush of Ghosts
Amos Tutuola, 1954
Tutuola's second novel recounts the fate of mortals who stray into the world of ghosts, the heart of the tropical forest.
A Grain of Wheat
Ngugi wa Thiong'o, 1967
Five friends make different choices when the Mau Mau rebellion erupts in colonial Kenya.
Second Class Citizen
Buchi Emecheta, 1974
Adah's desire to write is pitted against the forces of an egotistical and unfeeling husband and a largely indifferent white society.
Flora Nwapa, 1966
Flora Nwapa's first novel plants her story firmly in the world of women, where Efuru, beautiful and respected, is loved and deserted by two ordinary, undistinguished husbands.
People of the City
Cyprian Ekwensi, 1966
A young crime reporter doubles as a dance bandleader in a large West African city.
|No Longer at Ease|
Obi returns to Lagos full of ideas and high principles after studying in Britain. However, he is forced to adjust his moral values and succumb to the pressures of a corrupt society.
|Anthills of the Savannah|
Portrait of a West African military coup leader, and his moral deterioration.
|Arrow of God|
|A Man of the People|
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