Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Someone recommended Things Fall Apart several years ago, adding that they often assigned it to lit students. This seemed like a good enough reason to add it to my own Goodreads list, as it struck a chord with reading habits of my younger days.

In my late teens and 20s, I based many personal reading choices on titles considered classics that were often studied in classrooms. My high school, for whatever reason, never assigned novels. Once in a while they'd pass out mimeographed sheets, and we'd read Romeo and Juliet (probably just a portion of it?) or some other piece short enough to copy for the whole class, but they never handed out a pile of books for us to read and discuss. Maybe they couldn't afford 20 or 30 copies of each book they might've assigned, I just don't know.

What I do know is after high school I decided to rectify gaps in my literary foundation by hitting up my city and college libraries for some classics, like Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and whatever else I could think of. I also discovered a list of once-banned books later considered classics, which definitely grabbed my interest! That introduced me to works like The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Go Ask Alice, On The Road.

I've never regretted exploring the roads traveled in those pages, not only because I enjoyed many of the books, but because even the ones I thought were dull came with a brilliant reward. All of them are referenced now and then in other books, movies, TV shows, casual conversation – references I would've missed, connections I would've failed to make, a shared literary language I would've been unable to translate had I not plowed through the bitter and the sweet in those timeless tales.

With that penchant to be tempted by a classic, I couldn't fail to add Things Fall Apart to my "want to read" list. I'm so glad I recently took it off the TBR pile and put it on my nightstand.

First published in 1959, Things Fall Apart was written by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist and professor at Brown University. The story follows the life of Okonkwo, an important man in his village. We learn about his successes and failings while also getting a glimpse at traditions and life in an Igbo village (called Ibo in the book) circa the late 1800s.

Later, the story shifts to include the change brought by Christian missionaries, who are followed by other white men intent on enforcing their own laws and punishments on Okonkwo's tribe. The book's title gives more than a hint of what's to come, and as readers realize colonialism is on the way, they won't be that surprised when things actually do fall apart.

Throughout the novel, we see Okonkwo struggle with his own rigid beliefs on masculinity, even as the villagers all wrestle with change. When outsiders with little caring or understanding of other cultures push their way into Okonkwo's world, you see the drastic impact it has on the lives of the villagers and Okonkwo.

There's a lot to chew on here for readers, whether you're entering the world found in these pages alone, or with a book club, or for a class discussion. It's well-written, thought-provoking, and a great addition to anyone's personal list of must-read classics.

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