Thursday 21 August 2014

Things Fall Apart

Finished August 20
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, read by Peter Francis James

This classic is one I have long meant to read, and so when I was looking for an audiobook last week, this caught my eye.
Originally published in 1958, this work portrays the life of an Igbo Nigerian village before contact with white men. We see the social structure, the annual cycle, the food grown, prepared and eaten, the religious ceremonies, and the way families interacted. The story centers around a warrior Okonkwo, a man who is self-made, working hard to overcome his lack of support from his father, supporting not only himself and the family he built, but also his parents and his sisters. He wants sons that will carry on in the same way that he has, but finds that his child that he connects the most strongly with is one of his daughters. We see the effect on the family when children don't thrive, and the superstitions that this tribe has around twins, around what their gods expect of them, and around the crop cycle that their lives are built around.
When an accidental death occurs, we see how the one who killed his clansman is punished, and how he makes amends for this sad event. There are rules that these people live by, a system of responsibility, and of community that guides their lives and a system of justice that ensures that people treat each other with appropriate respect.
And then, sadly, we see what happens when first the Christian missionaries come, and then the British colonizing government, those who come to "civilize" these people who already have their own civilization. The British seldom take the time to study and consider how things work in this community before imposing their own values and rules on people who don't understand and who are threatened by this immense change to their culture. The lack of respect these people show to the Africans made me feel angry as well as sad, and the arrogance was horrible to hear of. There are some good men, like the first Christian pastor who takes the time to ask questions about why people do what they do and has real conversations with the elders about their religion and customs. But the one who replaces him is not one who embodies true Christian values, and the way he and the District Commissioner talk as opposed to how they treat the people is almost horrifying.
This is sad reveal of the horrible things down in the name of religion and civilization, a sad story of history that is not that long past.


  1. I just finished reading Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie which is also set in Nigeria; it's interesting that religion plays a role in both of these books. (And not always a favorable one.) Great review. I'll have to look for this book at the library.

    Oh! I also read Calling Invisible Women and loved it--such a delightfully funny book. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

  2. I haven't read any Adichie, although I'm pretty sure I have her Half of a Yellow Sun in one of my TBR piles. I did read Chris Abani's Graceland a few years ago which also is set in Nigeria, but in the 1970s and 1980s, a very different world from the one in this book.
    Glad you enjoyed Calling Invisible Women as much as I did.

  3. FYI, Shonna, I'm collecting links for Patti Abbott for the Friday's Forgotten Books feature, and I've added this one to it. Here's the permalink: