Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart captures the turning point in Nigerian history when the traditional ways of the Ibo people are engulfed and washed away by the white colonists with their British laws and Christian religion. Achebe, a descendant of that traditional Nigerian culture, paints the customs, people and landscape in vivid colors and clear prose. English is his second language but Things Fall Apart is eloquent, original and riveting.
Okonkwo, a respected village leader, is the center of the story and his actions and reactions reveal a strong character embedded in a complex culture. Ibo custom is animated and full of ritual, if not always balanced. Women have their strengths and their ways of coping but they are subject to their husbands, who can take as many wives as they can support. Okonkwo does not tolerate weakness, in his family, his tribe or himself, but he follows the tenets of village beliefs and practices scrupulously and acts with honor, as he and his people define it.
The story is a hybrid of western novel and African folktale, a form Achebe apparently developed from his own reading of European classics and study of his people’s storytelling. It’s just beautifully done, creating a world and the flavor of its language and daily life in lucid prose that doesn’t intrude on the story. Okonkwo is a tragic figure—his insistence on a completely masculine viewpoint and his inability to accommodate the feminine energy that is equally important to his tribe are symbolic of his intractability in the face of the sweeping change that threatens his way of life.
Things Fall Apart is a title borrowed from Yeats’ familiar poem “The Second Coming”—Things fall apart; the center cannot hold…There is no center in the tumult that beset Africa. Achebe’s classic novel is an enduring window on a world lost in the turbulence of history—instructive, engaging and a pure pleasure to read.
Things Fall Apart (Everyman’s Library) Chinua Achebe | Alfred A. Knopf 1992