I received Chinua Achebe’s ‘African Trilogy’ as a Christmas present, and it has deeply moved me. I encountered African literature when I was younger through Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus’. Since then, the majority of books I have read have been by authors from the west, and less so from other countries in the world. For a while, I’ve mainly stuck to the romance and theology genres but lately, I’ve felt it important to read outside of western literature so that I learn more about my history, but mainly so I don’t have a single story of others in the world, which could cause me to be narrow-minded or prejudiced about those outside of my own bubble.
I’ve had to restart this review a few times, as I was unsure of how much justice I can do the book. There is so much to cover from ‘Things Fall Apart’ that knowing where to start is difficult, as not much can be said without giving too much of the book away.
Okonkwo is the greatest warrior alive. His fame has spread like a bushfire in West Africa and he is one of the most powerful men of his clan. But he also has a fiery temper. Determined not to be like his father, he refuses to show weakness to anyone – even if the only way he can master his feelings is with his fists. When outsiders threaten the traditions of his clan, Okonkwo takes violent action. Will the great man’s dangerous pride eventually destroy him?
my rating: 5/5
Okonkwo is a man from the Umuofia clan of the Igbo people in Nigeria during the late 19th century. He is a man of pride, stubborness, and status known in the nine connected Igbo villages and beyond. He had spent the majority of his life proving himself to be different from his father, a lazy man indebted to many of the men in Umuofia – this is Okonkwo’s main driving force in life, making his refined character and traits the reason for his uprise and soon after, his downfall.
The book is split into three parts: part one focuses on Okonkwo’s history, both personal and of his family, as well as the customs of the Igbo society; part two and three focus on the rise of British colonialism in the Igbo community and how it leads to the downfall of their customs and society. Okonkwo, being a man of pride, and believing fiercely in mascuilinty tends to see women as weak which is used as an insult to men who have not followed the traditional Igbo ways of masculinity. As mentioned by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the introduction, this is ironic as Okonkwo of all his children takes the greatest pride in his daughter, Ezinma, whom he constantly reminisces throughout the book should have ‘been born a man’. This within itself shows Okonkwo’s personality and his upholding of masculinity as the forefront and centre of his being, and how when faced with a different form of masculinity brought by ‘the white man’ challenges everything he has believed makes him great.
There are many layers to ‘Things Fall Apart’ but what struck me the most, and brought conflict in my inner self was the traditional customs of the Igbo people and the arrival of the British Christian missionaries. Through part one we are given a map of the customs and the traditions of Umuofia and of the Igbo people, in which we become accustomed to as it is the way of their people. They had their gods, their sacrifices to these gods, and their belief in praying and respecting their ancestors; as well as a vivid reality of the saying, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ being upheld in their land. There was a lot of sadness within me from the way the people of Umuofia dealt with certain situations, in which I felt were inhumane and should not have been carried out, as it made no sense to me. However, this forced me to think about who am I to question the culture of another person and say their way of doing things is wrong because I am accustomed to my own western way of thinking? Yes, some of the traditions were inhumane and at one point in part one, we see Okonkwo wrestle with his conscience from what he has done, but simply dismiss it as a weakness for him feeling bad for taking part in such a tradition that saw the murder of another man. It’s interesting because as Okonkwo’s disapproval of his own father’s laziness and softness drove him to succeed in his village; Okonkwo’s stubbornness, pride, and rigidity are the reasons why his eldest son, Nwoye, becomes distant and removed from his father. As when the British arrive it makes it easy for Nwoye to leave, due to his own internal wrestle with the lack of understanding of the cruelty (at times without justification) of certain aspects of his own Igbo culture.
I found this interesting, as in some way it made me realise how quietly, yet forcefully the British colonised Umuofia from the inside out, starting by turning their own people against one another. Obierika, an elder in Umuofia, best describes it in the book,
“How can he [understand the customs of our land] when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The 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 in the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”
The most ironic part of this book is when the district commissioner releases the elders of Umuofia from jail -after having arrested them for wanting justice after the customs of their land had been violated by the British – the district commissioner repeatedly tells them to practice peace, and good governing, despite having beaten and starved them whilst they were held in jail. Alongside this, the mass murder of a village by the British contradicts the message of Christianity which they are ‘supposedly’ meant to be preaching. It’s fascinating as to how a nation can come into the land of another nation, claim that their culture and customs are wrong, murder their people and then take over their land and turn their own people against them. It’s the sad and heartbreaking reality of the world’s history, and Chinua Achebe tells it honestly and does it justice in this book.
Overall, it’s hard to write a review about ‘Things Fall Apart’ without giving too much away. For those who are interested in colonialism and want to see it written from an African’s view, I highly recommend this book as it really opens your eyes to the injustice of a people. Whilst providing the other parties narrative, clearly highlighting the faults of both, but neither defending or justifying either side.