Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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“A true classic of world literature . . . A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.”  Barack Obama 

Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read

Things Fall Apart
is the first of three novels in Chinua Achebe's critically acclaimed African Trilogy. It is a classic narrative about Africa's cataclysmic encounter with Europe as it establishes a colonial presence on the continent. Told through the fictional experiences of Okonkwo, a wealthy and fearless Igbo warrior of Umuofia in the late 1800s, Things Fall Apart explores one man's futile resistance to the devaluing of his Igbo traditions by British political andreligious forces and his despair as his community capitulates to the powerful new order.

With more than 20 million copies sold and translated into fifty-seven languages, Things Fall Apart provides one of the most illuminating and permanent monuments to African experience. Achebe does not only capture life in a pre-colonial African village, he conveys the tragedy of the loss of that world while broadening our understanding of our contemporary realities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307743855
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/06/2010
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 13,153
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Chinua Achebe (1930–2013) was born in Nigeria. Widely considered to be the father of modern African literature, he is best known for his masterful African Trilogy, consisting of Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, and No Longer at Ease. The trilogy tells the story of a single Nigerian community over three generations from first colonial contact to urban migration and the breakdown of traditional cultures. He is also the author of Anthills of the SavannahA Man of the PeopleGirls at War and Other StoriesHome and ExileHopes and ImpedimentsCollected PoemsThe Education of a British-Protected ChildChike and the River, and There Was a Country. He was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University and, for more than fifteen years, was the Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. Achebe was the recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award, Nigeria’s highest award for intellectual achievement. In 2007, Achebe was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called the Cat because his back would never touch the earth. It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights.


The drums beat and the flutes sang and the spectators held their breath. Amalinze was a wily craftsman, but Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water. Every nerve and every muscle stood out on their arms, on their backs and their thighs, and one almost heard them stretching to breaking point. In the end, Okonkwo threw the Cat.


That was many years ago, twenty years or more, and during this time Okonkwo's fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan. He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look. He breathed heavily, and it was said that, when he slept, his wives and children in their houses could hear him breathe. When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody. And he did pounce on people quite often. He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists. He had no patience with unsuccessful men. He had had no patience with his father.


Unoka, for that was his father's name, had died ten years ago. In his day he was lazy and improvident and was quite incapable of thinking about tomorrow. If any money came his way, and it seldom did, he immediately bought gourds of palm-wine, called round his neighbors and made merry. He always said that whenever he saw a dead man's mouth he saw the folly of not eating what one had in one's lifetime. Unoka was, of course, a debtor, and he owed every neighbor some money, from a few cowries to quite substantial amounts.


He was tall but very thin and had a slight stoop. He wore a haggard and mournful look except when he was drinking or playing on his flute. He was very good on his flute, and his happiest moments were the two or three moons after the harvest when the village musicians brought down their instruments, hung above the fireplace. Unoka would play with them, his face beaming with blessedness and peace. Sometimes another village would ask Unoka's band and their dancing egwugwu to come and stay with them and teach them their tunes. They would go to such hosts for as long as three or four markets, making music and feasting. Unoka loved the good fare and the good fellowship, and he loved this season of the year, when the rains had stopped and the sun rose every morning with dazzling beauty. And it was not too hot either, because the cold and dry harmattan wind was blowing down from the north. Some years the harmattan was very severe and a dense haze hung on the atmosphere. Old men and children would then sit round log fires, warming their bodies. Unoka loved it all, and he loved the first kites that returned with the dry season, and the children who sang songs of welcome to them. He would remember his own childhood, how he had often wandered around looking for a kite sailing leisurely against the blue sky. As soon as he found one he would sing with his whole being, welcoming it back from its long, long journey, and asking it if it had brought home any lengths of cloth.


That was years ago, when he was young. Unoka, the grown-up, was a failure. He was poor and his wife and children had barely enough to eat. People laughed at him because he was a loafer, and they swore never to lend him any more money because he never paid back. But Unoka was such a man that he always succeeded in borrowing more, and piling up his debts.


One day a neighbor called Okoye came in to see him. He was reclining on a mud bed in his hut playing on the flute. He immediately rose and shook hands with Okoye, who then unrolled the goatskin which he carried under his arm, and sat down. Unoka went into an inner room and soon returned with a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper and a lump of white chalk.


"I have kola," he announced when he sat down, and passed the disc over to his guest.


"Thank you. He who brings kola brings life. But I think you ought to break it," replied Okoye, passing back the disc.


"No, it is for you, I think," and they argued like this for a few moments before Unoka accepted the honor of breaking the kola. Okoye, meanwhile, took the lump of chalk, drew some lines on the floor, and then painted his big toe.


As he broke the kola, Unoka prayed to their ancestors for life and health, and for protection against their enemies. When they had eaten they talked about many things: about the heavy rains which were drowning the yams, about the next ancestral feast and about the impending war with the village of Mbaino. Unoka was never happy when it came to wars. He was in fact a coward and could not bear the sight of blood. And so he changed the subject and talked about music, and his face beamed. He could hear in his mind's ear the blood-stirring and intricate rhythms of the ekwe and the udu and the ogene, and he could hear his own flute weaving in and out of them, decorating them with a colorful and plaintive tune. The total effect was gay and brisk, but if one picked out the flute as it went up and down and then broke up into short snatches, one saw that there was sorrow and grief there.


Okoye was also a musician. He played on the ogene. But he was not a failure like Unoka. He had a large barn full of yams and he had three wives. And now he was going to take the Idemili title, the third highest in the land. It was a very expensive ceremony and he was gathering all his resources together. That was in fact the reason why he had come to see Unoka. He cleared his throat and began:


"Thank you for the kola. You may have heard of the title I intend to take shortly."


Having spoken plainly so far, Okoye said the next half a dozen sentences in proverbs. Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten. Okoye was a great talker and he spoke for a long time, skirting round the subject and then hitting it finally. In short, he was asking Unoka to return the two hundred cowries he had borrowed from him more than two years before. As soon as Unoka understood what his friend was driving at, he burst out laughing. He laughed loud and long and his voice rang out clear as the ogene, and tears stood in his eyes. His visitor was amazed, and sat speechless. At the end, Unoka was able to give an answer between fresh outbursts of mirth.


"Look at that wall," he said, pointing at the far wall of his hut, which was rubbed with red earth so that it shone. "Look at those lines of chalk;" and Okoye saw groups of short perpendicular lines drawn in chalk. There were five groups, and the smallest group had ten lines. Unoka had a sense of the dramatic and so he allowed a pause, in which he took a pinch of snuff and sneezed noisily, and then he continued: "Each group there represents a debt to someone, and each stroke is one hundred cowries. You see, I owe that man a thousand cowries. But he has not come to wake me up in the morning for it. I shall pay, you, but not today. Our elders say that the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them. I shall pay my big debts first." And he took another pinch of snuff, as if that was paying the big debts first. Okoye rolled his goatskin and departed.


When Unoka died he had taken no title at all and he was heavily in debt. Any wonder then that his son Okonkwo was ashamed of him? Fortunately, among these people a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father. Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things. He was still young but he had won fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages. He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams, and had just married his third wife. To crown it all he had taken two titles and had shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars. And so although Okonkwo was still young, he was already one of the greatest men of his time. Age was respected among his people, but achievement was revered. As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings. Okonkwo had clearly washed his hands and so he ate with kings and elders. And that was how he came to look after the doomed lad who was sacrificed to the village of Umuofia by their neighbors to avoid war and bloodshed. The ill-fated lad was called Ikemefuna.


Chapter Two


Okonkwo had just blown out the palm-oil lamp and stretched himself on his bamboo bed when he heard the ogene of the town crier piercing the still night air. Gome, gome, gome, gome, boomed the hollow metal. Then the crier gave his message, and at the end of it beat his instrument again. And this was the message. Every man of Umuofia was asked to gather at the market place tomorrow morning. Okonkwo wondered what was amiss, for he knew certainly that something was amiss. He had discerned a clear overtone of tragedy in the crier's voice, and even now he could still hear it as it grew dimmer and dimmer in the distance.


The night was very quiet. It was always quiet except on moonlight nights. Darkness held a vague terror for these people, even the bravest among them. Children were warned not to whistle at night for fear of evil spirits. Dangerous animals became even more sinister and uncanny in the dark. A snake was never called by its name at night, because it would hear. It was called a string. And so on this particular night as the crier's voice was gradually swallowed up in the distance, silence returned to the world, a vibrant silence made more intense by the universal trill of a million million forest insects.


On a moonlight night it would be different. The happy voices of children playing in open fields would then be heard. And perhaps those not so young would be playing in pairs in less open places, and old men and women would remember their youth. As the Ibo say: "When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk."


But this particular night was dark and silent. And in all the nine villages of Umuofia a town crier with his ogene asked every man to be present tomorrow morning. Okonkwo on his bamboo bed tried to figure out the nature of the emergency--war with a neighboring clan? That seemed the most likely reason, and he was not afraid of war. He was a man of action, a man of war. Unlike his father he could stand the look of blood. In Umuofia's latest war he was the first to bring home a human head. That was his fifth head; and he was not an old man yet. On great occasions such as the funeral of a village celebrity he drank his palm-wine from his first human head.


In the morning the market place was full. There must have been about ten thousand men there, all talking in low voices. At last Ogbuefi Ezeugo stood up in the midst of them and bellowed four times, "Umuofia kwenu", and on each occasion he faced a different direction and seemed to push the air with a clenched fist. And ten thousand men answered "Yaal" each time. Then there was perfect silence. Ogbuefi Ezeugo was a powerful orator and was always chosen to speak on such occasions. He moved his hand over his white head and stroked his white beard. He then adjusted his cloth, which was passed under his right arm-pit and tied above his left shoulder.


"Umuofia kwenu", he bellowed a fifth time, and the crowd yelled in answer. And then suddenly like one possessed he shot out his left hand and pointed in the direction of Mbaino, and said through gleaming white teeth firmly clenched: "Those sons of wild animals have dared to murder a daughter of Umuofia." He threw his head down and gnashed his teeth, and allowed a murmur of suppressed anger to sweep the crowd. When he began again, the anger on his face was gone and in its place a sort of smile hovered, more terrible and more sinister than the anger. And in a clear unemotional voice he told Umuofia how their daughter had gone to market at Mbaino and had been killed. That woman, said Ezeugo, was the wife of Ogbuefi Udo, and he pointed to a man who sat near him with a bowed head. The crowd then shouted with anger and thirst for blood.


Many others spoke, and at the end it was decided to follow the normal course of action. An ultimatum was immediately dispatched to Mbaino asking them to choose between war on the one hand, and on the other the offer of a young man and a virgin as compensation.


Umuofia was feared by all its neighbors. It was powerful in war and in magic, and its priests and medicine men were feared in all the surrounding country. Its most potent war-medicine was as old as the clan itself. Nobody knew how old. But on one point there was general agreement--the active principle in that medicine had been an old woman with one leg. In fact, the medicine itself was called agadi-nwayi, or old woman. It had its shrine in the centre of Umuofia, in a cleared spot. And if anybody was so foolhardy as to pass by the shrine after dusk he was sure to see the old woman hopping about.

Reading Group Guide

It is the express purpose of this guide to aid your group in reading, discussing, and more fully enjoying this illuminating work. It provides you with new perspectives on the work and hopefully provides you with new avenues for your conversations.

1. The Ibo religious structure consists of chi—the personal god—and many other gods and goddesses. What advantages and disadvantages does such a religion provide when compared with your own?

2. The text includes many original African terms and there is a glossary provided. Do you find that this lends atmospheric authenticity, thus bringing you closer to the work? Do you find it helpful?

3. There is an issue here of fate versus personal control over destiny. For example, Okonkwo's father is sometimes held responsible for his own actions, while at other times he is referred to as ill-fated and a victim of evil-fortune. Which do you think Okonkwo believes is true? What do you think Achebe believes is true? What do you believe?

4. The threads of the story are related in a circular fashion, as opposed to a conventional linear time pattern. What effect does this impose on the tale of Ikemefuma? What effect does it have on the story of Ezinma?

5. The villagers believe—or pretend to believe—that the "Supreme Court" of the nine egwugwu are ancestral spirits. In fact, they are men of the village in disguise. What does this say about the nature of justice in general, and in this village in particular?

6. Our own news media pre-programs us to view the kind of culture clash represented here as being purely racial in basis. Does Achebe's work impress as being primarily concerned with black versus white tensions? If not, what else is going on here?

7. Certain aspects of the clan's religious practice, such as the mutilation of a dead child to prevent its spirit from returning, might impress us as being barbaric. Casting an honest eye on our own religious practices, which ones might appear barbaric or bizarre to an outsider?

8. In an essay entitled "The Novelist as Teacher," Achebe states: "Here then is an adequate revolution for me to espouse—to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement" (Hopes and Impediments, p. 44). In what ways do you feel that this novel places Achebe closer to the fulfillment of this noble aspiration?

9. Nature plays an integral role in the mythic and real life of the Ibo villagers, much more so than in our own society. Discuss ways in which their perception of animals—such as the cat, the locust, the python—differ from your own, and how these different beliefs shape our behavior.

10. The sacrifice of Ikemefuma could be seen as being a parallel to the crucifixion of Jesus. The event also raises a series of questions. Ikemefuma and the villagers that are left behind are told that he is "going home" (p. 58). Does this euphemism for dying contain truth for them? Do they believe they are doing him a favor? Why do they wait three years, him and Okonkwo's family to think of him as a member of the family? Finally, Okonkwo, "the father," allows the sacrifice to occur as God presumably allowed Christ's sacrifice, with no resistance. How can one accept this behavior and maintain love for the father or God?

11. Of Ezinma, Okonkwo thinks: "She should have been a boy" (p. 64). Why is it necessary to the story that Okonkwo's most favored child be a girl?

12. Of one of the goddesses, it is said: "It was not the same Chielo who sat with her in the market...Chielo was not a woman that night" (p. 106). What do you make of this culture where people can be both themselves and also assume other personas? Can you think of any parallels in your own world?

13. There are many proverbs related during the course of the narrative. Recalling specific ones, what function do you perceive these proverbs as fulfilling in the life of the Ibo? What do you surmise Achebe's purpose to be in the inclusion of them here?

14. While the traditional figure of Okonkwo can in no doubt be seen as the central figure in the tale, Achebe chooses to relate his story in the third person rather than the first person narrative style. What benefits does he reap by adopting this approach?

15. Okonkwo rejects his father's way and is, in turn, rejected by Nwoye. Do you feel this pattern evolves inevitably through the nature of the father/son relationship? Or is there something more being here than mere generational conflict?

16. The lives of Ikemefuma and Okonkwo can be deemed parallel to the extent that they both have fathers whose behavior is judged unacceptable. What do you think the contributing factors are to the divergent paths their fate takes them on as a result of their respective fathers' shadows?

17. The title of the novel is derived from the William Butler Yeats poem entitled The Second Coming, concerned with the second coming of Christ. The completed line reads: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold." What layers of meaning are discernible when this completed line is applied to the story?

18. The District Commissioner is going to title his work The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Niger (p. 209). What do you interpret from this to be his perception of Okonkwo and the people of Umuofia? And what do you imagine this augurs in the ensuing volumes in Achebe's trilogy of Nigerian life?

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Things Fall Apart (African Writers Series) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 256 reviews.
kelsey dubose More than 1 year ago
The book was good. i did not think that i would like it. Only reason i might have thought that was because i had to read it for school. So it was kind of forced on me but then i realy got into the book i wanted to se what happens to him and i really started to like reading about their native ways. And that is what i think made the book so good was that it had someting that a lot of books that i read do not have and that is why i think this book is a good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Classic fiction by one of Africas best authors
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing story that makes you rethink your stances on religious issues
Lucas Tometich More than 1 year ago
changes the way you look at certain things in life!! favorite book ever!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
'Things Fall Apart' was unlike any book I have ever read. The plot, country, and characters were totally original, at least comparing those from previous reads. The setting of the book is in Nigeria and from what I understood, the time frame was around the slave trade period. Chinua Achebe has a vivid imagination and has a gift for transitioning what is in his head into document and making it seem realistic. I found interest in reading this book from my grandma and mother. Plus, my mom was making me read the required books to have been read for a city nearby, this just so happened to be on the list. In a way, I was forced to read it, but at the same time I was looking for new genres of novels and unique book selections. The novel starts out with the history of a tribal man and how he was doomed for failure through his personal chi -or god-. The man's name was Onkonwo and his father was considered a woman. This was because he had gained no title in life and therefore had not 'become a man'. Unoka, in fact, was a coward and a loafer. He was a poor man leaving his wife and children hardly enough to eat. People mocked him and swore they would not dare lend him any more money. However, Unoka always succeeded in borrowing more, along with piling up his debts. Unoka died, before he could pay back any of his debts and leaving Onkonkwo to feed his family. On the other hand, Onkonkwo had already accomplished more than his father when Unoka died. He was known for his wrestling skills and was gaining the trust from neighbors to spare him two barns worth of seed yams. In his life, Onkonkwo gained the privilage of having 3 wives and 2 out of 4 titles. Sadly, at the end of Part One Onkonkwo was forced to leave his clan and travel to the land of Mbanta, where the kinsmen of his mother lived. This leads to his new life and the beginning of Part Two of the book. I do believe that it's unique how 'Things Fall Apart' is split into two intertwining stories telling about Onkonkwo's troubles and trials he has to face. The first describes the clash between individual and society gains. The other describes the conflict between tribes and how European missionaries destroy Onkonkwo's tribal world from the inside out. I believe that this book gets slow at many parts. My reasoning simply is: Achebe describes certain parts too much and then whips back to the plot, not describing the parts that spark some interest. The plot is all over and used terms that are foreign and at times un able to comprehend. I have heard many times that it is hard to follow and readers stop reading. Over all, I think this book was an okay read if you have nothing else to read and you like novels with cultural themes.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought that this book was cleverly written. The omniscient point of view gave the reader a chance to understand what was going on outside of the main character and sometimes gave an inside look at the minds of the characters that were not the main focus. The development of the book gave subtle hints of the not so shocking (to me at least) ending. I greatly enjoyed reading the book and I hope that others have an opportunity to pick it up as well.
Anonymous 7 months ago
I had to read this book in school and it taught me many lessons.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Compelling characters and story.
pocketmermaid on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this for my World Lit II class. I listened to it on audio because I couldn't get myself to get very far in the text. Listening to it on audio was great because I got to hear the correct pronunciations of the African words and names. I wasn't too impressed with the story or the writing. I was actually more interested in Okonkwo's daddy issues than the conflict between the Igbo tribe and the Christian missionaries.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent picture of Ibo clan culture and of what happens when cultures collide. The first two thirds of the book tells the story of Okonkwo, an heroic type with a tragic flaw¿he is so afraid of ever appearing to be weak as he perceived his father to be that he sometimes acts too harshly until finally he commits an act that ultimately leads to his downfall. In a way, he reminded me of Othello¿a decent man whose flaw leads to his destruction. In addition to Okonkwo¿s story the novel also explores the consequences when the missionaries and the British government come to the area to ¿civilize¿ it. One of the strengths of the book is that the author presents his story ¿without prejudice¿ letting the reader see both the admirable and the not so admirable aspects of both cultures in this conflict as well as in the life of Okonkwo. Sometime he is difficult to like but in the end you feel real sympathy for him and his conflict.
Stbalbach on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
'Things Fall Apart' has been described as Africa's "best-loved novel", read widely not only in Nigeria, where it was written in 1958, but across the entire African continent; it is studied and taught in Europe and North America where 100s of papers and dozens of major studies have been written; it is said that in Australia or India it is the only African novel that most people know about. It has been called the "archetypal modern African novel written in English". [See Kwame Anthony Appiah's excellent "Introduction" in the Everyman's Library edition.]The novel is about an African tribe along the Niger River that experiences British colonialism around the turn of the 20th century. The first 2/3's of this short novel establish the customs and day to day life focused on one man and his family named Okonkwo. Into this arrive "white men" (British) who begin to change things, until eventually "things fall apart" leading to Okonkwo's death. The novel is not a "black and white" story of heroes and villains, of romantic old-world customs destroyed by modernity - rather the old customs have good and bad points, the British have good and bad points - even the hero of the novel, Okonkwo, is fairly unlikeable in many respects. The subtle balance between the good and negative gives the novel a great deal of believability, re-readability and instruction.Although we learn a lot about the specifics of the Ibo-speaking people along the Niger (historically accurate as Achebbe was born into that culture) the novel transcends the tribe, even Africa. It provides a realistic window into what it is like for tribal people who are being globalized - from Native Americans in the age of Columbus, to present-day Amazonians. This first-hand subjective experience of the novel transcends the many lengthy tombs of history and anthropological studies of colonization.
jferr29 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting but grossly overated novel of pre-colonial Africa.
tracyfox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is a compelling character study set in a Nigerian village at the turn of the last century. The story chronicles the first encounters between the polytheistic Igbo people and Christian missionaries. Obligations to the gods, cultural taboos regarding twins, the disabled and death, and unanticipated pronouncements from oracular priests and priestesses all govern the tribe's communal decision-making. Strictly delineated roles for men, women and children and tribal titles granting tribe members privileges such as harvesting palm wine govern day-to-day life. Okonkwo, a young Igbo man hoping to better himself despite his shamefully indolent father, feels these pressures acutely but manages for the most part to push ahead in the tribal hierarchy without making waves. The tribe's routines are upset when a priest erects a chapel in the evil forest where twins and outcasts are sent to live apart from the villages. Predictably, things fall apart. As Oberieka, one of the Igbo elders, put it: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was its depiction of Igbo tribal rites and the way the author used conversations between Igbo elders and the Christian missionaries to explain the interrelationships between the pantheon of Igbo gods and the tribe's animistic practices. I feel like I now have at least a concrete examples of how a polytheistic African religion weaves in and out of daily life. That is not to say that the specifics of that religion left me unmoved. At various points in the story, I longed for someone to step forward and put an end to the violence against women, the practice of leaving unwanted infants to die in the forest, and the senseless sacrifice of innocent children, but was disappointed.Another thing I did like about the book was its explosive ending. I felt it resolved all the major plot turns, without tumbling into a predictable, overly tidy end. The bitterly ironic comment that concludes the story was a graceful end note.I would recommend this book to anyone wanting an interesting introduction to black African literature. In some ways, the book so closely mirrors a Greek tragedy that it's hard to forget you are reading a title common on high school world literature reading lists. On the other hand, it's an excellent read that can be enjoyed in just a few evenings and it's on those reading lists for a reason.
melydia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wouldn't say it was so much good as it was interesting. It's the sort of book you read not for the story, but for the window into a different way of life it provides. I plan to release it today somewhere in Alexandria, VA, and make release notes when I get home.
soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really know very little about the history and affairs of Africa. I learnt something by reading Adichie's fine novel 'Half A Yellow Sun', a book exploring the civil war in Nigeria and the tragic history of Biafra; Adichie also explored the effects of colonnialism on her country, and makes the point that it should be Africans who write their stories, not Englishmen.Achebe makes much the same point, though his work vastly predates Adichie's. His 'Things Fall Apart' is an extraordinary examination of the tribal society that existed before the arrival of the first Christian missionaries to the country. His story of Okonkwo, a tribal leader and legendary wrestler, concentrates for the first half of the novel on the life of the tribe, on its customs, its celebrations, and how it dealt with outsiders and problems. At times it is incessantly sad; for example, as payment for a crime in another tribe Okonkwo accepts a son from another family and raises him as his own; when the order comes through to execute the boy years later, he is terribly conflicted and suffers the consequences. An accident during a celebration leads to Okonkwo's exile to his motherland, and it is only seven years later, when he returns to his tribe to discover the scale of the impact made by the Christian missionaries that we discover the whole thrust of the novel.For anyone with the slightest interest in Africa, this is a must-read. For anyone with no interest in Africa, the importance of this book is even more pronounced.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this a smooth, good read. Absorbing, well-paced, engrossing and not at all long--novella length. Sad to say, I don't as a rule expect good reads in those books upheld as modern classics, but this pulled me in. Someone who saw me reading it told me they found the style "Romper Room" and some reviews seem to echo that. I didn't feel that way. I'd call the style "spare"--which befits a writer who when asked which writers he admired and who influenced him named Hemingway along with Conrad and Graham Greene. And I loved how Achebe wove in folk tales and sayings and Ibo customs into the narrative. Things Fall Apart is considered a classic in African literature, and according to the introduction, Achebe wrote it to rehabilitate and counter what he called "the tarnished image of Africa," to give human dimension to the colonized. The first part gives us a nuanced and detailed picture of life in a pre-colonial Ibo village during the late Victorian era. To Achebe's credit, he doesn't present that life as idyllic and his central character, Okonkwu, who embodies the tribal values, is deeply flawed. Okonkwu equates manliness with violence, and has used violence on his own family. In an interview after the text, Achebe said his "sympathies were not entirely with Okonkwu." Achebe presents the ills that the colonists brought to the traditional village society--the division between families, the imposition of foreign rule, the corruption and brutality endemic in the system which even destroys an entire village in reprisal for the death of one white missionary. But Achebe also depicts what attracted people to the Christian missionaries beyond the schools and the hospitals, the trade. Among the first and most fervent converts are Oknokwu's own son Nwoye, bitter that his father killed his childhood friend who had tried to flee his fate as a human sacrifice, a pregnant woman who had lost several children because of the practice of twin infanticide, and two people from a taboo caste who find their first respect and equal treatment among the Christians. Frankly--and I know this is as un-PC as un-PC can be--but given Achebe's depiction of the brutal, superstitious, misogynist tribal culture, I was finding it very hard to see its destruction as tragic. Although, given all the different iterations I've seen and read of the "Dances With Wolves" motif, I did appreciate Achebe's willingness to show the unattractive side of a traditional culture.At the same time Oknokwu's friend Obierika says "the white man... has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart." And just as Oknokwu upheld that old center, when it falls apart he does too. And whatever ambivalence I might have felt for his fate and the values he stood for, few contemporary readers can read that last paragraph from the point of view of the white colonizing District Commissioner without disquiet or miss Achebe's sharp and bitter irony.
Crazymamie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written with sparse prose that uses simple words to convey complex, layered connotations. It reads like an allegory or a parable, and yet, it is more than that. Achebe uses language in a way which reminds me of what Hemingway achieved: tell the story, don't explain it, don't use big words when small ones will do, don't say more than you need to. The result, in Achebe's hands, is almost lyrical:"Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand....Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic....It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father's failure and weakness....And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion- to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and the other was idleness."Thus, before the end of chapter two, the reader understands what drives the main character Okonkwo and also what his fatal flaw is- he refuses to be a failure as his father before him, but in rejecting the bad traits, he also rejects those traits that were good. This story follows Okonkwo from his remembrance of his childhood to the end of his years and shows the demise of an African tribe as outside forces forever change a way of life."The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart."The story is an old one, a familiar one. And yet, its message resonates with every generation:"A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so....I fear for you young people because you do not understand how strong is the bond of kinship. You do not know what it is to speak with one voice."
GingerbreadMan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Things fall apart¿ is apparently often topping lists of the most beloved African novels. It¿s easy to see why. For a continent with a colonial past, this novel of imperialism and old ways dying has so sum up a shared historical experience. It tells the story of Okonkwo, a self-made man in an Ibo village somewhere in inland Nigeria. He is competent, intelligent and strong, but his fear of ever showing weakness is making life miserable for both himself and the people around him. This slim novel, straight, simple and effective in its style, tells the story of Okonkwo¿s twofold fall: first his fall from social status within his culture, and then the fall of that culture itself, with the arrival of the white man and his religion.I really like how Achebe is telling from within the Ibo culture. The world of the village, with it¿s customs of polygamy, worship of spirits and infanticide is not presented as exotic, but rather as the norm. He¿s not dumbing it down for a western reader who doesn¿t share this history, but at the same time has a great way of giving out information. I never feel excluded. Rather the opposite ¿ I get interested in learning more about a lot of the customs presented in this book.Okonkwo is not a likeable character, and has a very different moral, but I still feel connected, and his dilemmas are real to me. And Achebe¿s calm way of telling this story without ever raising his voice is extremely effective, not least in the dramatic passages. There are several events here that had me draw my breath in horror. But really, the pages flew by when he was telling me about yam farming or market day too. And the ending was heartbreaking in all its pettiness. Great stuff.
chrystal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
for bookclub... you know a book is going to be good when it has a silk ribbon bookmark attached...
-Eva- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an evocative tale of life in the Nigerian village of Umuofia at the end of the 1800s, mainly focusing on the life of Okonkwo, a fearless warrior, and his family. The book is obviously a classic, even held up as the "archetypal modern African novel," but at the same time incredibly readable. Okonkwo is not a very appealing character, but because of his conservative stance regarding traditions, he is the perfect protagonist for the reader to view the village and the changes that come about; although the rituals that the Igbo practice are quite brutal, Okonkwo manages to make them seem almost (if not completely) reasonable, and what is really interesting is how Achebe manages to describe these traditions, compare them with the "milder" missionary rituals, and make the Igbo come across as the more tolerant and open-minded of the two cultures. My favorite part is the voice that Achebe has chosen to tell the story - while reading, you get the feeling that you're listening to an episodic oral folktale since even the oddest occurrences are mentioned as fact and the main gist of the story is the outcome, like it is in a fable.
KaitlinM on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
By far one of the best assigned readings I've ever had. It takes a little while to get used to the "African" words and terminology referenced but once you do it's extremely insightful and inspiring.
milti on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The most awe-inspiring story.
BryanThomasS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the most famous and best novels to come out of Africa. After four trips there, I was in love with and fascinated by the culture of Africa and this book really takes you inside the head of a tribesman and his life. Written by an African author and thoroughly enjoyable. Not Western bashing. Instead, an honest examination of what life is like even today for many Africans. A don't miss book for culture lovers or the curious. All the people I've told to go to the Developing World at least once in life to understand the world better, read this. It's a good start.
TheBookJunky on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Picked up the book at a school fair sale in june. It is an old paperbabck edition, and the binding glue was disintegrating, but as long as the book was held carefully it was still readable. It was super cheap, a dime or something similar. The story, though¿..priceless.
flexatone on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is exciting to me when a work twists your loyalties and conceptions of its characters as the story unfolds. Things Fall Apart does this for me in a remarkable way. For most of the book, I was actually bored with the simplistic writing style, and unnerved by the characters. But toward the end, as the lives of the main characters fell apart, the message of the story falls right into place. A rewarding read.