Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
This novel would make an excellent gift for any young people you know who are thinking of becoming missionaries.
As night fell, burning torches were set on wooden tripods and the young men raised a song. The elders sat in a circle and the singers went round singing each man’s praise as they came before him. They had something to say for every man. Some were great farmers, some were orators who spoke for the clan. Okonkwo was the greatest wrestler and warrior alive. When they had gone round the circle they settled down in the centre, and girls came from the inner compound to dance. At first the bride was not among them. But when she finally appeared holding a cock in her right hand, a loud cheer rose from the crowd. All the other dancers made way for her. She presented the cock to the musicians and began to dance. Her brass anklets rattled as she danced and her body gleamed with cam wood in the soft yellow light. The musicians with their wood, clay and metal instruments went from song to song. And they were all gay.
Chinua Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria, the son of a teacher in a missionary school. His parents, instilled in him many of the values of their traditional Ibo culture, but christened him Albert after Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria.
Almost forty years ago Chinua Achebe published Things Fall Apart and became one of the founders of the new Nigerian literature. He would quickly become one of the finest African novelists, if not one of the finest in the world.
This ironic novel traces the life of Okonkwo, one of the greatest men in Umuofia, who, after seven years of exile, returns to his village to find missionaries and colonial governors have arrived and are in the process of undermining and destroying his culture and tradition. With his world thrown radically off-balance he can only hurtle towards tragedy.
As an Ibo writer, Achebe is interested in the effects of Western customs and values on traditional African society. In simple and dignified language he describes a complex and sympathetic portrait of a traditional Ibo village. He shows us a society that contains much of value and undermines Conrad’s vision of Africa as the heart of darkness.
Although he does not paint a vision of an ideal society, Achebe, nevertheless, introduces us to a range of timeless and empathetic characters, and displays his ability to portray them in a way that makes them instantly recognisable to us over both time and space.
This is a short novel but compulsive reading. There are, apparently, two sequels, and I shall be looking for both of them.