I remember picking up Things Fall Apart for its title. I knew I was going to read about the eventual collapse of someone’s world. What I didn’t imagine was that it would be of a man from land, language, culture so distinctively different from the ones I live in or know about. Exotic was the first word that popped up in my head when I thought about writing Things Fall Apart book review. Though I am not sure if or how have I handled the foreign element of this book which raises another interesting proposition of understanding the reader’s perception about what makes a book good, great or simply, popular. Things Fall Apart book review tends to bring to notice, the intensity of comfort, a reader acquires being used to a certain type of literary style since Chinua Achebe has packed Africa in the very script of the book.
Things Fall Apart – The Plot
Things Fall Apart is a vigorous account of Okonkwo’s life in Umuofia (a village somewhere in West Africa). The Igbo tribe from where Okonkwo hails is characteristically pre-colonial in its being. Marked by patriarchal hierarchies, customs, and traditions, a man’s word and ax wield absolute power over his family. Superstition precedes reasoning and violence dominates every governing aspect of life. The word of gods & goddesses is ventriloquized through Oracles who can’t be defied. Okonkwo is born and brought up in this world under an unambitious father. A burning desire to replace his father’s weak and debt-ridden legacy with his own has yielded him land, titles, and fame across Umuofia and neighboring tribes. Touted for a blemished ancestry, Okonkwo compensates for the lack of an inspiring and functional family with his community by functioning as its protector. A successful farmer and a famous wrestler, Okonkwo is called upon by the village council to use his muscle in fighting honor battles his tribe brings upon. His masculinity, even though guards Umuofia, comes at the price of having to deal with Okonkwo’s impulsive, aggressive temperament and occasional bullying. Things Fall Apart sees Okonkwo’s advances in life amid harsh, testing conditions but his fear of failure and disgust for weakness creates a jolting effect on Okonkwo every time he encounters guilt, compassion, or reasoning. It seems that nothing can conquer Okonkwo as long as his ferociousness guards him or guides him.
As life goes on in Umuofia, Okonkwo upon receiving Oracle’s prophecy one day kills his own adopted son. He struggles with guilt and shame but manages to mask this weakness. From there on, things begin to turn for Okonkwo. His favorite daughter falls critically ill and he accidentally kills a child at a funeral from the gunshot fired to pay tribute to a dead villager. Sent into exile by his tribesmen, Okonkwo moves to his maternal village. With a resilient spine, he overcomes every obstacle in his way and returns nine years later only to realize that everything has changed. Umuofia has given way to a foreign culture. Christianity has brought governance and new social structures. Colonialism has built deep inroads into the Umuofian way of life and its policy of divide and conquer has already done irrevocable damage to its unity. Unlike Umuofia’s simpleton gods, the new power is ambitious, cunning, and evolutionary in its vision and practices. Okonkwo is no match to the deceptively calm tactics of the colonial brain and fails miserably at intimidating it with his masochistic temperament. He struggles immensely with having to come to terms with a life where his muscle has no meaning or place in a world that adored him before. Unable to bear seeing his tribe falling apart, Okonkwo gives in to his terrible fate.
Things Fall Apart – About man and his tribe!
Being a novice reader (and reviewer too) has its own challenges. Where I am effortlessly quick in seeing through the characters, I sometimes struggle with the establishment that some books become in time. One book after another, I have come to learn that to go into a book uninfluenced and unalert might put you off with the unexpected, but also offers a chance to revel in the raw and original outlook the reading carries along. That’s how I went into Things Fall Apart! The novel was my first acquaintance with African literature. It is funny to mention that I struggled to locate the socio-cultural genesis of the book even though it was full of hints. Chinua Achebe‘s writing style and tone are immaculately proverbial. Short sentences laid down as brick-on-brick reveals a simple writing architecture supporting the folkloric way of storytelling. Most of the script and dialogues are projected through folklore, lending the book an insight into the linguistic landscape of the local tribal communities. Perhaps, that’s the reason the novel was well received by the global reading community as the first modern take on capturing African identity & ethos through not just its story but by its storytelling too. It is read formally in Nigeria and the rest of the continent. Other than the technique, the novel showcases pre-colonial African values and culture beautifully although only through the eyes of Okonkwo. He comes around as not only the chief character but almost as the only character too. The book loses its pace at one place and abruptly catches up at another. It is a long read and might demand the reader’s patience to stay on. As far as my experience is concerned, reading Things Fall Apart caused a bit of discomfort and disorientation because of its intensely tribal character. It came off a bit strange as I struggled with the direction of the plot but perhaps one thing that proved to be heavily influential throughout was the sheer vulnerability of Okonkwo that Achebe has portrayed. It grows on in time, winning over the familiar, conditioned territory of the reader’s psyche. The novel managed to stay the course until I concluded it in my head almost a week after. (That’s what I like about books). In the end, I could see Okonkwo and his tribe as one. Anyone who is looking to taste a distinctive literary piece or to expand his reading palette should definitely try Things Fall Apart.
The book borrows its title from Y.B. Yeats’s famous poem ‘The Second Coming’ and continues with No Longer At Ease and Arrow of God as sequels.