Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. A Classic from Africa

These three books in order make up An African Trilogy.

Quite coincidentally in the choosing of this book, it became the second book read in this competition, that is set in Africa, this time in Nigeria, somewhere near the lower Niger. It is set in the late 1800s on the cusp of British colonisation, along with missionaries bringing Christianity to replace the age-old gods of the Igbo people.

It is written by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author and poet, and was his debut novel. Published in 1958, the book became regarded as the first African classic written in English, and has since been a set book in many schools all over the world.

In the first of three parts, in each chapter, we meet Okonkwo and his family and fellow villagers of Umuofia (his father’s clan’s village) and Mbanta (his mother’s clan’s village) and the culture of the Igbo tribe of peoples as it was before the arrival of the White Man, in this case British missionaries. The culture was patriarchal, in various ways brutal eg., the killing of twin babies, murder of other tribes-people, the beating of wives; however, the society is very stable and sustaining of countless generations. The protagonist is the strong, proud, but flawed warrior, Okonkwo. We come to know all his family and the culture that defines them all. He is a wealthy yam farmer, wealth being counted as numbers of seed yams possessed. Kola and palm-wine are items of welcome and social offering. He lives in his own hut within his compound with the huts of his three wives and their children in separate huts behind his.

In the second part, we go with Okonkwo and his family, to the neighbouring village of his mother’s family, for the seven years of his banishment for accidentally killing another tribe member. During those years, British missionaries arrived in his home village. They are treated with tolerance and derision at first, and given the worst land for their church; however they embed themselves in the village, and start to change the culture. 

In the third part, Okonkwo and his family return to Umuofia. Okonkwo is angered by the missionaries and the changes, including the conversion of his son. The story continues to a clash between Okonkwo and others with the British authorities. He is released but the story moves to a shocking conclusion with things unbearable, as Things Fall Apart……

I loved reading this book. It is simply presented, (a narrative in the oral style as was the tradition of story-telling in the Igbo culture), and easy to read. I felt immersed in that culture, and loved all the African names of people and villages. For example, neighbours Okoye and Ogbuefi Ezeugo; family members Ekwefi and Ezinma; Agbala the Oracle.

In part 1, Chapter 5, the Festival of the New Yam is described. There is music, dancing, drumming and wresting. Music is provided by the Udu, the Ogene and drum sets.

It is worth adding some quotes from this chapter:

“The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart.”

“There were seven drums and they were arranged according to their sizes in a long wooden basket. Three men beat them with sticks, working feverishly from one drum to another. They were possessed by the spirit of the drums.”

“At last the two teams danced into the circle and the crowd roared and clapped. The drums rose to a frenzy.”

“Their bodies shone with sweat, and they took up fans and began to fan themselves.”

“The drums went mad and the crowds also. They surged forward as the two young men danced into the circle. The palm fronds were helpless in keeping them back.”

“The crowd had surrounded and swallowed up the drummers, whose frantic rhythm was no longer a mere disembodied sound but the very heart-beat of the people.”

Perhaps with some deprivation in my education regarding literature, I had never heard of Chinua Achebe. He was a poet and novelist, a chieftain of the Igbo people of Nigeria. Things fall apart has been regarded as a masterpiece. I will read more of him. No infringement of copyright is intended.