I recently finished reading China Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart. It was recommended to me by a friend and faithful H2O Intern named Tanner. Her recommendation came the day after I finished reading Danielle Daniel’s Daughters of the Deer. I was telling her about my goal for my reading more diversely this year), but I was also complaining about some of the book’s shortfalls. Specifically, its pedantic tone and one-dimensional characters. Tanner responded by saying that she knew just the book that would accomplish my goal of continuing to read from a wide variety of perspectives — while also utilizing some masterful storytelling. And when I looked up her recommendation, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, on my electronic library app, it was immediately available. So, I started reading it immediately — and enjoying it immediately.
The book shares the story of an Igbo tribe in Nigeria, at the beginning of its colonization by the British. Most of the book describes everyday life in a region called Umuofia, primarily following the perspective of one of the region’s best warriors, named Okonkwo. And just as Tanner promised, Okonkwo is a fascinatingly-complex character. He’s proud. And he’s a violent man who beats his wives and children, as well as his enemies in battle. But he’s also a protector of his people. He’s a hard worker, who makes a name for himself from nothing. He wins the sympathy of the reader, over the course of the story. But it’s an uneasy peace between the reader and the protagonist that perfectly matches the uneasy peace of the story.
Towards the end of the story, the British settlers enter the narrative. And that’s truly when “Things Fall Apart.” The story is incredibly tragic. But it’s not because the British colonizers are “bad guys” and the people of Umuofia are “good guys.” The author does a masterful job of showing how everyone has mixed motives. There are character flaws on every side. And in the end, Things Fall Apart proves that things do, in fact, fall apart when human beings are involved with anything.
The story is sad. But also beautiful. I especially appreciated the Nigerian voice in which the story is narrated. It doesn’t feel forced or manipulated. It just feels like authentically African way to tell a story. I came away from this book with a new appreciation for Igbo society and a challenge for my (white, Christian) society. But I feel like that was really constructive. I’m very glad that I gave this book a chance, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a powerful story with powerful characters.