Things Fall Apart–Chinua Achebe

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This is a beautiful book. It’s considered a classic and for good reason. It’s also a very sad book, as indeed most classics seem to be.

Considered the best example of modern African narrative, this story follows Okonkwo, a leader in his village, at the time of colonization in Africa.

The colonists and the missionaries do not come out of this well, which is not a huge surprise.

Regardless, this story is aptly named. Things really do fall apart for Okonkwo. He’s a fierce man, trying to overcome the issues and memory of his weak father. To this end, he sometimes makes bad decisions in the name of being tough. For example, at some point his village takes a young boy hostage and the boy lives with him for three years and thinks of him as his own father. And then, counter to the advice of the village elder, he participates in the boy’s execution.

Then during a funeral his gun explodes (unreliable firearms are a feature of the time) and accidentally kills someone. Per the rules of his village, he’s banished for seven years. So he goes to his mother’s village and during this time the missionaries come.

His son joins the missionaries and moves away, which creates yet more resentment in his heart against the missionaries. And the stories of the new colonial government are distressing to all the villagers.

When he gets back to his own village, things get worse. One of the Christians unmasks the sacred dancers representing the gods, which is a big no-no. The village leaders, including Okonkwo, retaliate by burning the church to the ground.

The colonial government calls the village leaders in for a “discussion” which turns out to be a trial, and the leaders are kept in humiliating and terrible conditions. This does not improve the quality of the situation when they return to the village.

There’s plans for war, but when the messengers from the government come to see what’s happening, his village settles down. In frustration he kills one of the messengers. The penalty for this is death, as he well knows, so to prevent having to be shamed by the colonial government, he hangs himself.

It’s all incredibly tragic and sad. But it’s beautiful, beautifully written and executed.

 

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