Thursday, 6 December 2012


Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

1996 edition by Penguin Classics (ISBN 0-141-18688-7)

I am not going to pretend this is a biography or a review, by someone who hasn't just had the book thrown at them by their boyfriend; namely because I am not and I did!

Like many decedents of African soil, I am drawn to African culture so there was nothing that was going to be a barrier to me getting my teeth into this book.

Initially what struck me was the fact that it was initially written in English and was still an African perspective.  This information and more is passed to us by Biyi Bandele in the introduction. Incidentally my wikipedia research (yeah I know, my tutor would be fuming too) taught me that Bandele wrote an adaptation of Achebe's Things Fall Apart book in 1997, for British theatre.  I love introductions by worthy peers and in this it doesn't disappoint.  It gives a great introduction to African politics of the time as a necessary background to the book.  Also the clear adoration Bandele has for the text and the author comes through; you feel inspired before you have stepped foot inside the true pages.  The introduction in itself was pure literature.


Basically these are based on ranty notes I made on the train as I read the book...

The book is created so artistically, with well structured chapters that exist as pieces of art hanging together in a collection.  It is split into 3 parts that lay out these steps in Africa's recent history, with Okonkwo, the mighty warrior as Africa personified.  Part One gives us the sensual description of life.  Part Two describes the transition that lands us into Part Three.  Every part stands alone but is essential together with the others - which is a perfect singular touch of Africa, giving us the cycle of life and ancestors.

I felt a realness that is missing in Western life, in my life; centred on a mother plucking a chicken with her daughter.  The ceremonies and traditions of celebrating the harvest, a soul felt gratitude for the provision of food.  Provided by the earth, sun, rain, ancestors and the gods.  In our Western culture we have no appreciation of food, we just consume it and discard it in a way that shows no respect for the cycle of life that fills our bellies.  Surely something is missing in our soles with that absence.  It seems so right, so perfectly natural, in Achebe's descriptive narration of this domestic virtue.

Okonkwo's brutality is outlined as brutality but explained as his fear of becoming his loathed father.  But within this I still felt uncomfortable with a man beating his lover, the mother of his children and his children.  We can't say violence against women is cultural in the sense that most cultures have this violence as an accepted part of their societies; it is especially prevalent in Western culture.  I feel that Achebe puts across this real tender feminist description of women but my mind still sees them as property of man.  It is hard for me to get my head around this concept but the sweet respectful touch upon womanhood seems much more important.  Women are valued and respected within this in a way I have never felt personally within my society as a whole - and I cared to hold onto that sense.

Strength, pride and passion are the most respected traits of a man within the clan.  Okonkwo's was loved and revered because of his strength and the status he managed to gain with his determining passion and persistent strength.  He threw himself into regaining and surpassing what his father never had.  Maybe his turmoil was always the utmost relevance of ancestry and his fathers severe failings.

I enjoyed the style of the writing.  To me, it seemed a tale, a micro processed beautifully given piece of literature giving me Africa in a very sensuous way.

"it was a tremendous sight, full of power and beauty"
This is a description of the sight of locusts on pg 41.  My mind has been taught that locusts are such a bad thing and it was such a gorgeous description of the arrival of locusts.  A variation in diet caused such excitement.  When we have such a different attitude towards seasons and availability of food it, again, refreshes me to have that feeling put upon my mind.

As a mother, Ekwefi's torturous journey with Onwumbiko was so soul-tearing.  The sense of terror I felt at the thought of it just left a vacuum inside me.  Specifics here would take away from the reader.  There is both happiness, security and absolute terror in all true spirituality.

"Gome gome gome gome "

Feeling this gong sounding as vibrations through my body, brings me to Chapter 10 which gives us a central part of pagan life in Africa, the holding of ancestors as the key to life.  This chapter stands alone as a description of Africa from Africa's perspective. To me, it seems one of the most important messages, drawing Western eyes far enough away from a Western perspective to allow Africa to regain its deep roots.
It gives us the ceremonial gathering of the 'egwugwu', manifestations of the founding ancestors of the clan.  They come together to administer justice in disagreements within the clan. A tie in to all the other traditions of this culture.

In reading through Part One I am left with considering the given strength and importance of family as a structured unit and I feel and understand why the dynamic of my family struggles to work.  Roles and responsibilities seem to unify and give huge strength.

The systems within village life simply worked; there were solutions to every problem so harmony was enjoyed. There was security in that where u fell u would be guided to a right place, in that was no uncertainty, no anxiety; just surety and knowledge.  There is much uncertainty in modern Western life and now as Africa has suffered colonialism, modern African life too.

There is a significant unfortunate transition that befalls Okonkwo, our Africa, that draws it to something that its solid culture could not ever have controlled.  Nothing could have changed the evil carcinoma of white supremacy that sore the rape and dissection of our beautiful radiant Africa.  That still sees this sarcoma eat away at the richness of this place where all our feet have touched or crave to feel, nerve endings to neurons.  The dichotomy being -  nakedness with Africa is natural but within the imperialistic disease it is vulnerability.

Okonkwo felt the fear in his being, the sense of impending cultural annihilation, threatened in the arrival of the white man with their illogical need to wipe out so disrespectfully the existence and belief in ancestry and every other part of African culture.

I am left with the feel of 'religion' being used by the white man to hold themselves supreme. 

None of my questions of WHY? have been taken by this essential literature.  The feeling of rotting from the inside that white supremacy gives is stronger BUT.. sense of understanding of Africa's power is need to connect to Africa is need to regain what was stolen so brutally from my ancestors is trebled.

I am left wondering how we could ever have stemmed this cancer and held our Africa intact.  Big question! And how are we to recover and let Africa evolve and modernise to regain her strength and passion now with the imperialist disease still running rife through her blood...

The author's introduction to the book and the title is perfect:

Things Fall Apart
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
W. B. Yeats 'The Second Comin'.
Thank you Mr Steve Mannion for the loan of the book that has been absorbed by my book case ;)

1 comment:

Sankofa Mind said...

Another gr8 post ;))