Achebe, Chinua*: Things Fall Apart (1958)
* Winner of 2007 Man Booker International Prize
Our discussion took place: December 2014
Review: © The Observer: First published in 1958 – the year after Ghana became the first African nation to gain independence, as Britain, France and Belgium started to recognise the end of colonialism in Africa and began their unseemly withdrawal – Chinua Achebe’s debut novel concerns itself with the events surrounding the start of this disastrous chapter in African history. Set in the late 19th century, at the height of the “Scramble” for African territories by the great European powers, Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, a proud and highly respected Igbo from Umuofia, somewhere near the Lower Niger. Okonkwo’s clan are farmers, their complex society a patriarchal, democratic one. Achebe suggests that village life has not changed substantially in generations. But then the English arrive in their region, with the Bible – rather than the gun – their weapon of choice. As the villagers begin to convert to Christianity, the ties that had ensured the clan’s equilibrium come undone. As Okonkwo’s friend Obierika explains: “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.” Unwilling to adapt, Okonkwo finds himself the protagonist in a modern Greek tragedy. The first part of a trilogy, Things Fall Apart was one of the first African novels to gain worldwide recognition: half a century on, it remains one of the great novels about the colonial era.