This is the tragic story of Okonkwo, a leader of the Igbo tribe, a man who has earned a great reputation as a fighter (one of his greatest achievementThis is the tragic story of Okonkwo, a leader of the Igbo tribe, a man who has earned a great reputation as a fighter (one of his greatest achievements is a collection of five heads that he has brought home as trophies of war). He looks probably something like this:
Okonkwo is also a great yam farmer and has three wives. When he speaks for the ancestors he wears a mask that looks something like this:
This is the story of how Okonkwo comes to lose his farm, his son, his tribe and, ultimately, his life as his culture changes and is taken over by imperialists who look something like this:
who are intent upon doing this:
so they can get this:
Like all good books, "Things Fall Apart" has left me with questions:
1) Is there such a thing as a "primitive culture"? What does a primitive culture look like? Conversely, what is an "advanced culture"? Is a culture with complex technology necessarily more "advanced" than a culture with complex agriculture and mythology?
2) How do cultures devise common narratives? In the Igbo culture everything is a story and every story seems to relate things that the Igbo know: yams and palm wine and spirits and animals; every day objects found in the environment. What are some common elements of modern-day narratives? Do we all tell stories about iPods or cars? Televisions and office buildings? What is an object that represents our common culture? Is there such a thing or is our society so fragmented by target marketing that American society no longer has common denominators?
3) Is male chauvinism the default condition of the human heart?
4) What does a modern American have to do to avoid causing harm to people of other cultures? How much would it cost to avoid buying objects made in sweat shops? Or gold or diamonds from Africa? Or iPods from China? Or, go a step further: what would it be like to voluntarily quit consuming excess resources so that every person on the planet has equal access to food and shelter and transportation? Isn't modern capitalism, in practice, nothing but a form of passive subjugation?
5) When is is wise to resist cultural changes and when do you dig your heels in? Okonkwo's refusal to adapt to modern tribal ways ended up costing him his life. Is it better to foolishly die for what you believe in or to make compromises in order to survive?
Questions questions questions.
I recommend that you read this book and start asking yourself similar questions. ...more
The Captain Alvarado pushed in from the sunny square for a moment. He looked across the fields of black hair and lace at the trooping of the candles aThe Captain Alvarado pushed in from the sunny square for a moment. He looked across the fields of black hair and lace at the trooping of the candles and the ropes of incense. "How false, how unreal," he said and pushed his way out. He descended to the sea and sat on the edge of his boat, gazing down into the clear water. "Happy are the drowned, Esteban," he said.
A bridge collapses in Cuzco, killing five random Peruvians of disperate social classes and backgrounds. A Franciscan priest sets out to write the biographies of the dead.
Like Ecclesiastes and the book of Job, The Bridge of San Luis Rey asks the question Why do bad things happen? but, in searching out the matter, the narrative is incapable of offering a definite answer. Instead it offers several possible but unsatisfying answers and a series of even less satisfying questions. Why does the bridge collapse, sending five people to a premature death? Was God impotent to help the victims, or merely cruel in ordaining their demise? What good, if any, can come of such a tragedy? Are the lives of men governed by random chance and superstition (as the Marquesa of Montemayor believes) or by the invisible, inscrutable benevolence of God (as Brother Juniper believes)? Do good men deserve to live? Do bad men deserve to die? "Either we live by accident and die by accident," asserts the Brother Juniper at the outset of the story, "Or we live by plan and die by plan."
I was surprised to read in the afterword that The Bridge received popular and critical praise when it was first published. It was even serialized in major American newspapers. The book netted for Mr. Wilder the 1928 equivalent of a million dollars. I find it hard to believe that a book of such high, poetic diction and complex themes was a hit among regular reading folk. What tops the bestseller list now? Twilight?Harry Potter? Sorry. I know it's easy to complain about how things were better in the days of yesteryear. But can you imagine a time when the common man went about with a copy of a Thornton Wilder book tucked under his arm?
Ah! I am so often nostalgic for an era in which I never lived.
Thanks to my friend Kevin for recommending this book to our book club. Kevin: you are a genius....more
One of the many gems of dialogue: "Alcohol is like love," he said. "The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, theI could not set this book down.
One of the many gems of dialogue: "Alcohol is like love," he said. "The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that you take the girl's clothes off." "Is that bad?" I asked him. "It's excitement of a high order, but it's an impure emotion-- impure in the aesthetic sense. I'm not sneering at sex. It's necessary and it doesn't have to be ugly. But it always has to be managed. Making it glamorous is a billion-dollar industry and it costs every cent of it."
(Come to think of it, Stephin Merritt also compares love to a bottle of gin. The analogy must be valid.)
How is this book so good? How did someone like Raymond Chandler walk the earth and type out this masterpiece? After reading this book I am more convinced than ever that I must read every Philip Marlow mystery in existence.
On the edition that I was reading (Everyman's Library) there is photograph of the author on the cover that's just great. He's on old man sitting on a couch at a cocktail party. He's wearing horn-rimmed glasses and holding a highball. On his left is a young lady in a silky dress smoking a cigarette in a cigarette holder. Yes. Yes! That's it! I want to be like that in forty years. I want to write a dozen brilliant books, then sit on a couch next to a beautiful woman at a cocktail party and wear horn-rimmed glasses. Ah. That's the life. ...more