Book Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Around The World For a Good Book selection for: Nigeria

Author:  Chinua Achebe
Title: Things Fall Apart
Publication Info: Heinemann Educational Publishers (1971) [Originally published in 1958]
ISBN: 0435121626


Achebe’s novel depicts the traditional culture of the Igbo people in the late 19th century as a complex society unlike many European/American views of Africa of the time as “primitive.”  Central to the narrative is Okonkwo a strong man whose success as a wrestler has opened the door for him to seek leadership in the tribe.  Ambitious and something of a bully, Okonkwo is not a sympathetic character (fittingly as Achebe does not sentimentalize the Igbo and even show some as complicit when the Europeans arrive and “things fall apart”).

For breaking a taboo, Okonkwo is sent into exile and during that time European missionaries and traders arrive.  Some Igbo are drawn to Christianity and some hope that allying with the missionaries will help them redress that political flaws of their own society.  Okonkwo returns home and takes up the cause of driving away the foreigners with predictable results.

Things Fall Apart is a nuanced and truthful (if not factual) account of the colonial culture clash.  This novel is tragic, blunt, and in all things rather grim.

Recommended books: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (for a contrasting view)
Rating: ***1/2

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