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Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)
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September 2019: Cultural > Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe - 4 stars

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Joy D | 3044 comments Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe - 4 stars

PBT Comments: This definitely fits the "cultural" tag. It shows a great deal of the culture of Nigeria in the late 1800s from a tribal perspective. If anyone is still looking for a book that fits "cultural," I recommend this short, powerful (but sad) book.

This book tells the tragic story of Okwonko, a member of the Ibo tribe (now called Igbo) in the fictional Nigerian village of Umuofio in the late 1800s. It examines tribal culture prior to and after the arrival of the British colonial representatives and Christian missionaries. Okwonko comes from a low station in life, which he attributes to his father’s laziness and lack of courage. His father died in poverty and disgrace, leaving Okwonko to support himself at an early age. Okwonko fears becoming like his father, so he relies on strength and hard work to attain prestige in his village. His self-image is tied to his need to affirm and protect his masculinity. He and his three wives live in a compound of multiple buildings with their numerous children. He is easily angered, beats his wives, and suppresses his and his sons’ emotions.

As Achebe describes him: “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.”

Achebe employs a third-person narrator, in the tradition of a storyteller. The narrator’s style is colloquial, employing proverbs, folklore, and songs to tell Okwonko’s story. It is if he is looking to the past, relating facts of what happened to Okwonko during his life, and how he reacted to the many changes introduced by the arrival of colonial agents. It is told in a straight-forward manner, using the type of language that would appear in stories promulgated through oral history. Ibo words and phrases are used liberally, and a glossary of terms is provided in the back of the book, though the meaning can usually be inferred from the context.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Okwonko is introduced and his major life events related. The village life is described in terms of its customs, ceremonies, rites of passage, music, tribal religion, relationship with nature, personal chi, laws, social hierarchy, methods of settling disputes, means of communication, relationship with nature, and gender-based roles. This section slowly lays the groundwork for the sections to come. The village clan lives in harmony with nature. They use peaceful methods of dealing with internal disputes and they obey the council’s decisions. Punishments, such as exile, are meted out for breaking the societal norms. The second part of the book describes one such period of exile. The third describes the clash of civilizations when the colonial powers arrive, and its impact on Okwonko.

The brilliance of this book lies in Achebe’s ability to show the tribal society in a way that is understandable to the reader. Though we may not agree with the practices of the Ibo society (where wife beating is acceptable and twin babies are discarded as evil spirits), we recognize how their society functions within its own parameters of rationality. We see the basis for the miscommunications that lead to hostility. For such a short work (just over 200 pages), it covers a lot of ground and provides an intimate portrait of tribal life. Be prepared for “woman” to be used as a derogatory term in this patriarchal society, though the feminine is also viewed as “Nneka – Mother is Supreme.” This is a quintessentially cultural work told from the perspective of those experiencing massive change, as they cling to traditions and struggle to adapt. Published in 1958, it is considered a modern classic. It is definitely worth reading and I wish I had read it sooner.

Link to My GR Review


Idit | 1028 comments A great review to a really good book!
Chimanda Ngozi Adichie has a short story collection - ‘the thing around your neck’, and the last story is a tribute to this book


message 3: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 7107 comments This has been on my shelf for too long-I really need to make a point to get to it!


Joy D | 3044 comments Idit wrote: "A great review to a really good book!
Chimanda Ngozi Adichie has a short story collection - ‘the thing around your neck’, and the last story is a tribute to this book"

Thanks, Idit! I will check out the collection. I need to read more from this author.


Joy D | 3044 comments Joanne wrote: "This has been on my shelf for too long-I really need to make a point to get to it!"
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Joanne!


annapi | 4850 comments I "read" this because it was assigned to my son for English class last year, and after his freshman year's fiascos I now make him read his assigned books to me out loud, 2-3 chapters at a time as they are assigned. My very own audiobook! This year he starts out with Sleepy Hollow.


Joy D | 3044 comments annapi wrote: "I "read" this because it was assigned to my son for English class last year, and after his freshman year's fiascos I now make him read his assigned books to me out loud, 2-3 chapters at a time as t..."
Sounds like fun, annapi! When my son was in school, I read everything he was assigned, but never read them together.


annapi | 4850 comments Joy D wrote: "Sounds like fun, annapi! When my son was in school, I read everything he was assigned, but never read them together."

He was not doing his homework, and he would lie to us about reading the books, so this way I was sure he actually read them! And he actually seemed to enjoy it too - it has become a nice bonding time with him. At least he wasn't falling asleep! I finally read The Great Gatsby too because of this.


Joy D | 3044 comments annapi wrote: "Joy D wrote: "Sounds like fun, annapi! When my son was in school, I read everything he was assigned, but never read them together."

He was not doing his homework, and he would lie to us about read..."

I ended up reading A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley and The Kite Runner, and we discussed them.


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