Book of the Month: Things Fall Apart.

from coverbrowser.com

from coverbrowser.com

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 BookForum.com, 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.

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16 comments to Book of the Month: Things Fall Apart.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • dilettante

    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.

    That is so to the point.

    I also wonder, from conversations I’ve had with some 2nd generation British Nigerians/West Africans the role Christianity or the “embrace” (for stature?) of it still has today in some societies. link Telegraph article by an Atheist, suggesting Christianity as a force for good as relates to development; ” Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”

    Along with that would be the mega churches, Creflo Dollar $$ style ministries & “anointing” witchcraft (?) are also part of the landscape “In some of the poorest parts of Nigeria, where evangelical religious fervour is combined with a belief in sorcery and black magic, many thousands of children are being blamed for catastrophes, death and famine: and branded witches. link

    really looking forward to this discussion.

  • Dang, let me read it again dude :) !

    I have not read the book in years, I actually thought it was not all that good when I first got through it so I want to see if the book has gotten better or I have gotten smarter in the intervening years.

  • http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/reconsiderations/travel-writing-nowhere-need-be-foreign.php?page=all

    what do you think about this stuff? and how does the travel-writing genre interact with TFA? I mean, one of the things that is just SOOOO interesting to me in terms of west african travel-writings is just how… pathetic the people sound. Take Mungo Park (my fave), whose stories basically involve: go to new a village, beg/bargain with the chief for provisions/lodgings/directions, don’t die, go to a new village. I mean, the entire trip he is ENTIRELY dependent on the hospitality (and humanity) of the ‘Other’, and Mungo totally admits it. And yet the reception of such writings is that ‘Africans are savages!’ instead of ‘Africans are pretty nice and just like us’. That is the disconnect with me. I gotta stew this over some more.

  • A) Heart of Darkness was not that bad.
    B) What do you mean by introduction to the continent?
    C) Achebe wrote TFA in direct response to Mr. Johnson (which is a GREAT book by the way, and I would read it first before going to TFA to see why TFA was such a big deal).
    D) Achebe’s role as an ‘African writer’ is complicated because he sees his role as that of a teacher to non-Africans about the continent. He wrote a lot of his stuff (not all, mind you) for non-Africans (whatever that means exactly), which brings about a whole host of issues.
    E) Appiah and Achebe are my dudes, you lucky bastard.

  • dang, really? arghh, I hate figuring out who was ‘first’, because there are always moving goalposts involved (ie Ghana being the first independent African nation in 1957 being pre-empted by both Egypt and Sudan, for example, while Liberia was… complicated, so that you always gotta preface Ghana with ‘first sub-saharan African country to gain its independence after European rule’, which is not nearly as catchy).

    I am not that familiar with Gordimer (I can barely keep track of West African stuff, so forget about the rest of the continent), but thanks for letting me know. Still, TFA has clearly cracked ‘The Cannon’ while Gordimer (I would argue) is far lesser known, so I dunno quite how much impact she had. Part of Achebe’s impact was that here was a dude who, to a bunch of Euros and Yanks, could not CONCIEVABLY write as well as Euros and Yanks can, and he then proceeds to write just as well… I mean, this was EARTH-SHATTERING stuff. True, one could ask why Achebe should be judged by white, racist, eurocentric, patriarchal, captialistic standards of ‘literature’ instead of creating a literature revolution (and this stuff kind of mirrors the ol’ Ibadan vs Dar es Salaam school of African historiagraphy), but meh, I find that sort of questioning to lead down the proverbial rabbit-hole. And he did create a revolution of literature, one that still has power with us today.

    I still think Achebe’s other stuff is better though, and I thought that Mr. Johnson was the superior novel, but I am a philistine.

  • [...] why read it now? PostBourgie has a monthly book club, and this month’s pick is Things Fall Apart. I’m excited to head over there in a few [...]

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