Book of the Month: Things Fall Apart.



It’s the story of pre-colonial Nigeria, groundbreaking because it was originally written in English by a black African writer. The title was taken from a William Butler Yeats poem. It features the story of Okonkwo, a young man struggling to maintain the old customs with the ones brought by white Christian missionaries.

Gods and Soldiers, briefly reviewed at, is a new collection of contemporary African writing that features established and up-in-coming writers presented by geographic location. In the introduction to the collection, editor Rob Spillman writes:

“It has been fifty years since Nigerian Chinua Achebe published his novel Things Fall Apart, a classic work of anti-colonialism that became a worldwide literary sensation, its commercial and critical success opening the door for many other black Africans.”

Achebe is considered a literary father to widely-read contemporary African writers like Chris Abani, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Tsitsi Dangarembga. Things Fall Apart was first published in 1958. We will be discussing the novel on August 15th.

Happy Reading.

  • Key from the City

    One of my favorite books of all time. Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions is also a must read. I look forward to the upcoming discussion.

  • I attended a really good conversation between Anthony Appiah and Chinua Achebe last year, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the book. Achebe was quite literally the first African to write a book about Africa to be widely distributed within his home country and also to Europe and the U.S. Prior to him and his contemporaries, you had stuff like “Heart of Darkness” as the West’s only introduction to the continent.

  • Looking forward to this! If I can self-promote, I’ve blogged about TFA here but the gist of my two cents is that the apparent simplicity of the book can be really deceptive.

    On the one hand, you can read it simply as an illustration of what pre-colonial Nigeria was like, and this is part of the work the book tries to do; Achebe once said that “I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.” And his book does do this; Okonkwo, for all his imperfections, is not a savage but a human being whose faults and imperfections compose his humanity.

    On the other hand, though (and this is the thing I work to get my students to see), Achebe is also producing a really pointed critique of his own people, and Okonkwo is the figure that represents all these attributes. His insularity, his misogyny, and his quickness to resort to violence are the kinds of things that Achebe sees in his own time and place, and the tragedy of Okonkwo (the manner in which his world falls apart) is as much a product of his own failings as it is something imposed on Africans from without. European colonialists are far from blameless, of course, but Achebe is careful to also think about what choices and attributes on the part of the Igbo people made it possible for those colonists to do the damage that they did.

    Which is to say, one of the reasons that Achebe’s book is so brilliant is that it manages both to be critical without being dismissive and to redeem Okonkwo without glorifying him. There’s something a little like Obama’s “racist uncle” trope to it: Achebe might not like Okonkwo, but he doesn’t disown him because Okonkwo is part of what modern Nigeria is, and it’s because of this that he writes the book about him.

    Again, glad you’re doing this! That Achebe hasn’t gotten the Nobel prize is a real travesty, though TFA is only part of the reason why he deserves it.

  • Pingback: What you should be reading now: Things Fall Apart « Planning the Day()

  • I love this book!

  • i read this during my senior year of high school. it’s stuck with me all this time. i was just annoyed having to discuss it with dumbass underachievers. i will definitely put that on my reread list.

  • I read it high school as well. I remember recalling the book during a college lesson on chaos theory.

  • A) Not that bad? Okay.
    B) By introduction, I mean, introduction that wasn’t about a white guy swinging on vines or…cannibals.
    C) You’re right, and they talked about that.
    D) Agreed, but he, at least, had a working knowledge of actual Africans in Africa as humans, not just white mens’ burdens.
    E) I know, right? It was dope. I took notes at the time, but I can’t find them.

  • I’m jealous of everyone who read it in high school. But I am definitely going to have to pull it out now (where it has been sitting on the shelf since I received it for Christmas awhile ago) so that I can at least know what all of you are talking about when you discuss it – and hopefully contribute a little too.

  • belleisa

    I’m so happy people are excited about reading this book. Maybe we should do multi-cultural classics more often…?

    Either way thanks for the enthusiasm everyone. Can’t wait to see what you guys have to say. And for those of you who’ve already read it, I want to know how your experience of the book has changed from the first reading, to the second reading….

  • belleisa

    Achebe was the first to be widely distributed, but I’m positive Nadine Gordimer was published before him.