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This review is now on my blog More Than Two Million Copies Of Things Fall Apart Have Been Sold In The United States Since It Was First Published Here In Worldwide, There Are Eight Million Copies In Print In Fifty Different Languages This Is Chinua Achebe S Masterpiece And It Is Often Compared To The Great Greek Tragedies, And Currently Sells Than One Hundred Thousand Copies A Year In The United StatesA Simple Story Of A Strong Man Whose Life Is Dominated By Fear And Anger, Things Fall Apart Is Written With Remarkable Economy And Subtle Irony Uniquely And Richly African, At The Same Time It Reveals Achebe S Keen Awareness Of The Human Qualities Common To Men Of All Times And Places Back Cover My son and I had a long talk about this novel the other day, after he finished reading it for an English class Over the course of the study unit, we had been talking about Chinua Achebe s fabulous juxtaposition of different layers of society, both within Okonkwo s tribe, and within the colonialist community We had been reflecting on aspects of the tribe that we found hard to understand, being foreign and against certain human rights we take for granted, most notably parts of the strict hierarchy and the role of women And we had been angry together at the inhumane arrogance and violence of the Europeans, who were only in charge based on their technological development level, not on cultural superiority We had thought about the roles of men and women, and of individuals in their relation to their families and social environment We had touched on the hypocrisy of religious missions.I had dwelt on the title and its beautiful context, the poem by Yeats, relevant now than ever Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer Things fall apart the centre cannot hold Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity We had compared Okonkwo to the skilled falcon, and the ruthless Europeans to falconers killing and destroying without reason And The best lack all conviction a sad truth in an era of a radicalised political climate.We agreed that the novel was excellent, timeless and universally important And then came the last paragraph If a novel can make a 14 year old genuinely upset, angry, and frustrated to the point of wanting to slap a fictional character, then the author has managed to convey a message, I d say He got me engaged as well, and I could feel my nausea towards the Commissioner re emerge instantly when reading his arrogant final thoughts, after the tragic showdown The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself 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 The discussion between my son and myself focused on how the commissioner managed to marginalise a whole life, which we had breathlessly followed in the preceding pages, to a mere paragraph in a text of his own vain invention, with zero relation to the true circumstances My son claimed it was one of the best endings he had ever read for the sudden change of perspective that disrupted the story and made it stand out in sharp contrast.Then we continued talking Best endings Which ones could possibly compete First one up was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich Its last sentence also puts individual suffering into a wider perspective, in this case a time frame The end of an unclouded day Almost a happy one Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell The extra three were for leap years Neither my son nor I will ever get over that counting of three extra days for leap yearsSecond up was All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the death of the narrator is reported in a last paragraph that indicates that the main character s life is of so little importance that newspapers wrote there was Nothing New on the Western Front His so called heroic death drowned in the meaningless mass dying, his suffering was completely without purpose in the bigger machinations of politics on national level And yet, he had been so incredibly alive and opinionated and experienced, just the day beforeThen the last one we could think of mirroring our shared reading experience , was the horrible case of a last sentence showing the victim s complete identification with the tyrant, the falcon loving the falconer, Orwell s closing line in 1984 He loved Big Brother The brutality of the comparison made my son say At least Okonkwo made his final choice on his own As sad as it is, we felt grateful for that But what a brave new world, that has such people in it Must read Must talk about Achebe s protagonist isn t a very nice man In reality he is an asshole I don t like him I don t think anyone really does He is ruthless and unsympathetic to his fellow man He grew up in a warrior s culture the only way to be successful was to be completely uncompromising and remorseless His father was weak and worthless, according to him, so he approached life with an unshakable will to conquer it with his overbearing masculinityWhen Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavy in debt Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him Fortunately, among these people a man as judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his farther I love the sarcasm in this quote Achebe is clearly suggesting that this is not true for the white man For all their supposed superiority, they cannot get this simple thing right The African tribe here has a better system of promotion based on merit The warrior Okonkwo has a chance to prove himself regardless of what occurs in the civilised part of the world And here is the crux of the novel Achebe gives the black man a voice he gives him culture and civilisation These men are not represented in an unjust way He is directly responding to the ignorant trend in Victorian literature that represented the colonised as unintelligible and voiceless they were shown to be savage Achebe gives us the reality.This quote says it allIf you don t like my story, write your own.And that s exactly what he did himself He holds no judgement His protagonist is completely flawed Okonkwo is without mercy he has earnt his fame and respect, so when an untitled youngster speaks out he is immediately roused to anger This is hishamartia,his tragic flaw, he must overcome this and treat his fellow tribesmen with a degree of dignity But, he is a slow learner And who can blame him For all his brutality and misogyny, this is till his culture This is all he has ever known, whether it s right or wrong doesn t matter Granted, not all the men are as extreme as him He uses his position to extract violence than most His wives are often the focal point for his rage, much to their misfortune He sounds like a bad man he s certainly not a nice man, but that s not the point Achebe s meaning, and the power of this story is revealed at the end I found this very unusual, but it was also very effective The point of this novel is to show how uncompromising the white man is That s an obvious point, though what I mean to say is that its full effect is revealed at the end The Nigerian culture, the way of life for the tribe folk in this novel, is forced to change because if it doesn t it will be destroyed in its entirety The protagonist represents this he has to deal with the crisis He had a choice he could either accept the white man s way, and be changed forever, or he could stick to his own customs and, ultimately, fall Language is the keyAmong the Igbo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten Africa does not possess a silent culture Conrad s Heart of Darkness was wrong African language is formal, developed and intelligent Here in Nigeria is the conduit for the Igbo culture It is rich in oral tradition Achebe recognises that to accept a new language is to shun the original culture Achebe shows that Igbo tradition is dependent on storytelling and language, to accept English would destroy the Igbo traditions It would alienate the Africans form their culture thus, resistance, however futile, is the natural and just response Okonkwo s reactions are deeply symbolic of a culture that is about to collapse I think what Achebe is trying to portray here is the quietness of the African voice It had no say It doesn t matter if the colonisers were kind or brutal it doesn t matter what the Nigerian culture was like in terms of ethics What matters is that it was taken away or shaped into something else entirely This was not progress but assimilation All culture has its flaws, that s true for any society, but the white one, for all its self aggrandisement, was nothing but imposing And for Achebe this is the ruination of the voice he was trying to channelThe 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 Written in 1958, this is the classic African novel about how colonialism impacted and undermined traditional African culture It s set among the Igbo people of Nigeria aka Ibos A key phrase is found late in the book He the white man has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart Wiki calls the book the most widely read book in modern African literature The main character is a strong man, the village wrestling champion He has three wives and many children, although the wealthiest man in the village has three barns, nine wives and thirty children He s not above beating his wives when the spirit moves him He seems ruled by anger and fear There s not a lot of plot He struggles at first to become established There are some bad crop years but all in all, things go reasonably well Then he accidentally kills a fellow tribesman and suffers the punishment imposed by the village elders of being banished for seven years He loses his land and his accumulated wealth and has to go back to his mother s village, dreaming of his return When he does return, white rule has extended its influence into his village and everything has changed.The British have brought greater prosperity, a school and a clinic but at a tremendous cost, mainly in imposing their laws and legal system above the traditional rule by village elders A Christian church has been built and many are leaving the old gods and converting, including one of the main character s sons Retaliation by the whites is swift a nearby village killed a white man driving a car they had never seen a car before and in retaliation, soldiers came and machine gunned the marketplace men, women, children basically annihilating the village Much of the book is anthropological A description of village councils, a priestess, crop cultivation, food preparation, and all the elaborate rituals around bride price negotiations, weddings, funerals and their gods I liked many of the idioms and proverbs scattered throughout the text There must be a reason for it A toad does not run in the daytime for nothing An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb Eneke the bird says that since men have learned how to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching As a man danced, so the drums were beaten for him The author 1930 2013 was raised as a Christian, went to college in Nigeria, became a journalist and started writing With his fame he eventually moved to the US as a professor at Brown University He turned the book into a trilogy, adding No Longer at Ease in 1960 and then Arrow of God in 1964 He also gained some fame by writing an academic paper attacking Joseph Conrad as a thoroughgoing racist A good read and classic Top old photo of the also Igbos from diaryofanegress.comModern day family Igbo family from hometown.ng Photo of the author in 2008 from Wikipedia. How to attempt a balanced review of Things Fall Apart 1 The book is serious Themes and issues dealt in the book are far serious than many other books written by the contemporary authors of Achebe 2 The colonial abstract takes an altogether different turn as Achebe explores that colonisers not only colonised the land and properties but also the minds and hearts of the native people 3 Racism has been dealt very aptly and also religious hypocrisy different churches for the people who have converted 4 The plot might seem relaxed and lazy almost if you ignore the themes and issues However, the plot is than enough to keep the readers engaged DO I recommend the book yes, of course The act of writing is strangely powerful, almost magical to take ideas and put them into a lasting, physical form that can persist outside of the mind For a culture without a written tradition, a libraries are not great structures of stone full of objects instead, stories are curated within flesh, locked up in a cage of bone To know the story, you must go to the storyteller In order for that story to persist through time, it must be retold and rememorized by successive generations.A book, scroll, or tablet, on the other hand, can be rediscovered thousands of years later, after all those who were familiar with the story are long dead and miraculously, the stories within it can be delivered to modern man in the very same words the ancients used If, in Qumran cave, we had found the dry bones of the scribe who copied the dead sea scrolls instead of the scrolls themselves, we would have no access to any of his knowledge.Any library can be destroyed, whether the tales are stored in the mind of a bard or on the skins of animals, but unwritten history is much fragile after all, speech is nothing than wind, which cannot be dug up from the earth a century later All lands have their own histories, but sadly, we only get to hear a scant few in their own words.We know that Africa had empires as complex and powerful as those of Europe beyond the well known examples of Egypt and Carthage, the Romans give us secondary evidence of the great Central African empires from which they got their salt and gold, alongside many subsequent references but in the end, these amount to little than myths and legends.Carthage itself was so thoroughly destroyed that Rome basically erased their true history, replacing it with Roman propaganda and rumor mongering, until in The Aeneid, Carthage becomes nothing than Rome s jealous, jilted lover instead of what she truly was the template of naval dominance and mercantile power that Rome copied and built her empire upon.The African continent is just as full of ruins and archaeological treasures as Europe or Asia, but due to rampant social and economic instability caused by multinationals squabbling over resources and profits in the power vacuum left in the wake of post colonialism, it s not currently safe or supportable to research these sites and rediscover the cultures they represent Hopefully someday, we will be able to uncover this wealth of knowledge, but until then, we can only imagine all that we have missed the great loves and wars of Africa, the dark skinned Caesars and Helens, the Subotais and Musashis of the savanna.But not all is lost to us We still have pieces of the puzzle the fact that fractal math, on which we base our computer languages, comes from North African divination which is why Fibonacci had to go there to learn it , or the fact that most of the Greek and Roman texts upon which the Western literary tradition is based were passed down to us not from Christian monks, but Islamic scholars this is why Averroes appears in Raphael sSchool of Athens , and why he and Avicenna appear alongside Plato and Aristotle in the works of Dante The glory of Benin City, the wealth of Mansa Musa all these await the student of African histories.Plus, there are still storytellers in Africa the lineages through which their histories have passed are not all dead Though the words were not written down, we can research them, all the same looking for lost texts , rare tales, and compiling them, collecting them, and finally giving voice to histories that have been too long obscured Knowing all of this, I thirsted for depth and complexity from Achebe to get a view into one of the innumerable cultures of Africa.The power of a story from a different culture is in defamiliarization Though all cultures share certain universal ideas love, freedom, revenge, tyranny the way they are expressed in each particular culture can be eye opening So, they are capable of showing us familiar things, but making them feel new, making us look at them in a fresh way.Yet, that s not what I got from this book indeed, everything in it felt immediately recognizable and familiar, not merely in the sense of universal human experience , but in almost every detail of expression and structure I have read modern stories by fellow American authors which were stranger and produced culture shock, defamiliarization than this but perhaps that was Achebe s intention.He expressed in interviews just how difficult it was for an African author to publish a novel at all that no one assumed an African would want to write their own story, and the manuscript was almost lost because the typing agency just didn t take it seriously Back then, the very notion that Africa might have a history outside of Egypt was controversial even though it seems simple and obvious to us now that of course every people in every nation has their own history, and the desire for their unique voices to be heard.So, perhaps it would have been impossible to write a complex book, that it just wouldn t have been received Achebe was among the first generation of his people to be college educated, in a branch of a London University opened in Nigeria taught by White, English teachers More than that, he may have been trying to show that his own culture was just like the culture of his teachers to stress the similarities instead of the differences.So then, it makes sense that Achebe is not writing a primer of his culture, but is rather reflecting European culture back at itself, from the mouth of an Igbo man a brave and revolutionary act After all, he was the consummate Western man of letters, by his education, and everything about his book s form reflects that It is written, not oral, it is in English, it aligns neatly to the Greek tragic structure and the form of the novel and even the title is taken from one of the most famous poems in the English language.Achebe is hardly being coy with his inspirations here he wants us to know that he is adopting Western forms, he wants us to recognize them, to mark them He is aware that this is a post colonial work, a work from a culture that has already been colonized, and is responding to that colonization This is not a voice from the past the discovery of Gilgamesh buried in the sands it is a modern voice speaking from the center of the storm.The central theme is the onset of colonization, the conflict between the tribe and the European forces just beginning to encroach upon them Like his most notable lecture, this book is a deliberate response to writers like Conrad, Kipling, and Haggard.I m not trying to suggest that it s a problem that Achebe is writing in the Western style, or that he s somehow too Western because it s any author s prerogative if they want to study and explore Western themes Indeed, as Said observed, it s vital that writers reach across these boundaries, that we don t just force them into a niche where women writers write the female experience and Asian writers write the Asian experience because that s just racial determinism due to the culture you re born in, you can only every write one thing unless you re a White man, and then you can write whatever you like.Indeed, one cannot confront colonialism without understanding it, adopting its forms, and turning them against the power structure Achebe himself recognized that an oppressed individual has to use every tool to his advantage to fight back even those tools brought in by the oppressors, such as the English language, which Achebe realized would allow him to communicate with colonized peoples from countries around the world Authors from all sorts of national and cultural background have taken on the Western style in this way, and proven that they can write just as ably as any Westerner Unfortunately, that s not the case with this book.As a traditionally Western tale, there just isn t a lot to it It is a tale of personal disintegration representing the loss of culture, and of purpose It is an existential mode seen in Arthur Miller, Joseph Heller, and J.D Salinger but by trying to make the story universal, Achebe has watered it down too much, so that it lacks depth, sympathy, and possibility His existentialism is remarkable for 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 of the organizations under which they live, be they Western or African in origin 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 the chance 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 hyperbole of Belinda s lock, nor the mad passion of Hamlet.Achebe s characters are not able to find their own meaning in hopelessness nor do they even 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 dynamic possibility Everything is already lost, we only wait on the characters to realize it.It is difficult to court the reader s sympathy when there is nothing left to be hopeful for With no counterpoint to despondence not even a false one it is hard to create narrative depth, to reveal, or to surprise Trying to write a climax through such a pervasive depression is like trying to raise a mountain in a valley.No matter how hard they try, there is no visible path to success Nothing is certain, and the odds against are often overwhelming Achebe felt this doubly, as an author and a colonized citizen He succeeds in presenting hopelessness, sometimes reaching Sysiphean Absurdism, but with too few grains to weigh in the scale 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 comprehending their suffering The mother who says eat your peas, kids are starving in Africa succeeds through misdirection than by revealing the inequalities of politics and the human state.Achebe presents suffering to us, but it is not sympathetic we see it, but are not invited to feel it His world loses depth and dimension, becomes scattered, and while this does show us the way that things may fall apart, particularly all things human, this work is an exercise in nihilism than a representation of the human experience.So, it ends up being one of those books that it notable for its place in the canon than its quality It was certainly a brave and revolutionary act for Achebe to write it, and to persist with it, but the book itself is less impressive than the gesture that produced it For me, it becomes prototypical of a whole movement of books by people of non Western descent who get praised and published precisely because they parrot back Western values at us and avoid confronting us with actual cultural differences, while at the same time using a thin patina of foreignness to feel suitably exotic, so that the average Western reader can feel worldly for having read them.It s flat works likeThe Kite RunnerorHouse Made of Dawnwhich are just exotic enough to titillate without actually requiring that the reader learn anything about the culture in order to appreciate it because of course every guilt ridden Liberal Westerner wants to read about other cultures, but as Stewart Lee put itnot like that, Stew, not where you have to know anything In the most extreme cases you get something like The Education of Little Tree , where a racist KKK member pretends to be a Native American and writes a book so saccharine, so apologetic and appeasing of White guilt that it can t help but become a best seller because it turns out that no one is better at predicting what comforting things Middle America wants to hear about race than a member of the KKK.Of course, I m not suggesting that Achebe is anywhere near that just that it makes obvious the problem with judging a book by its historical place rather than the actual words on the page Indeed, it s downright insulting to the author and the culture It s the same response people would have to hearing that a dog wrote a book Wow I ve got to read that which has nothing to do with the quality of the book, and everything to do with the fact that we have very low expectations of dogs.To treat a person the same way because they are from another culture is pure condescension Just because someone is born into a culture, that does not make them representative of that culture authenticity is not an in born trait, which is the problem of the illusion of the pure voice , because there is no pure cultural voice, and to imagine there is is to reduce that culture to a stereotype.A woman can be a misogynist, an African American can hate his own people To suggest that somehow, a person s views and perspective are in born and unchangeable is simply racism and it doesn t matter if the trait you are assigning to that race is positive or negative, it s still a limitation you re putting on that person.Non Westerners are just as capable of creating great works of art as Westerners but they are also just as capable of writing cliche tripe Like any other human being, they run the gamut from brilliant to dull, from bigoted to open minded, from staid to imaginative As such, there s no reason to grade non Western authors on some kind of sliding scale, to expect less from them, or to be any less disappointed when their works fall short Of course, we shouldn t judge their work by Western standards, either to blame a Japanese fairytale for not being Hamlet unless like Achebe they are writing in a recognizable Western style and deliberately drawing that comparison.While there s certainly something to be said for getting your foot in the door , that isn t a defense of the book itself of its plot, characters, or themes It s also too much to place Africa on Achebe s shoulders to pretend as if there aren t thousands of unique cultures, histories, and traditions there and yet that is what we do We make Achebe into a point of entry to a whole continent, which is a massive burden to place on anyone Much better to look at the book itself its words and images than to try to make it into something that it is not.A book that lasts can t just be its place and time, it needs to have a deeper vein that successive generations can return to over and over, and I didn t find that here Indeed, I find it ironic that Achebe has so attacked Conrad, because like Achebe s work, Heart of Darkness is remarkable because it does take a stand against colonialism and racism It is admittedly an early stand, and an incomplete presentation, just like Achebe s It works only because it is situated in that certain way, transgressive but not too transgressive to alienate its audience not quite able to escape being a product of its time, but still managing to point the way to the future.But Conrad is not merely revolutionary by his stance, he has also written a fascinating and fraught book, complex and many layered, which succeeds despite its shortfalls Things Fall Apart, in contrast, is a book that only works because of its positioning, and has little further depth to recommend it I cannot say that the book was not effective, in its place and time because it certainly was or that it hasn t been inspirational, but in the end, Achebe s revolutionary gesture far outshines the meager story beneath it. 1958. Y know when you read a novel that is just so stark and bare and depraved that you know it s going to stay with you for a very long time Yep, it s happened guys It s happened This novel ruined me Ugh it s so great and so horrible It s what Yeats would describe as a terrible beauty Read it, let it wreck you, and bathe in its importance. In this classic tale Okonkwo is a strong man in his village, and in his region of nine villages At age 18 he beat the reigning wrestling champion and has been an industrious worker all his life, a reaction to his lazy, drunkard father He lives his life within the cultural confines of his limited world, following the laws that govern his society, accepting the religious faith of his surroundings, acting on both, even when those actions would seem, to us in the modern west, an abomination While he may succeed and fail within the confines of his society s laws, what he cannot do is adapt himself to the world when it goes through a dramatic transformation In this case, his home town is revolutionized when white missionaries set up a base and bring along with them the firepower of western weapons Unable to cope, unable to channel his justifiable rage into constructive actions, he is led inexorably to his doom Chinua Achebe from the Salon article noted belowWhat is this book about It is a simple tale The details of Okonkwo s experiences accumulate to give us a picture of his times, his culture, so we have a sense of what is at stake when change arrives Is this a warning to us of our own inability to see beyond the confines of our culture How will we cope with change when it comes, in whatever form I found it difficult keeping track of the characters This is a case in which a diagram of a family tree would probably come in handy Yet, ultimately, this is not so important What matters is that we get a sense of Okonkowo s world And the impact of the West arriving in an African society This book is considered a classic,and for good reason EXTRA STUFFThere is a wonderful video of John Green talking about the book Must see In fact you could do worse than skipping the above review entirely and checking out Green s vid And there is a second episode of his vid on the book as well Have at it.In 2013, Salon republished a wonderful 2010 essay, Chinua Achebe The man who rediscovered Africa, on news of his passing.