Friday, 23 September 2011

Things Falls Apart by Chinua Achebe (3/5)

The back says (my edition has parts of a review from the Observer for who knows what reason): ”... The story is the tragedy of Okonkwo, an important man in the Igbo tribe in the days wen white men were first appearing on the scene... Mr Achebe's very simple but excellent novel tells of the series of events by which Okonkwo through his pride and his fears becomes exiled from his tribe and returns, only to be forced into the ignominity of suicide to escape the results of his rash courage against the white man... He handles the macabre with telling restraint and the pathetic without any false sense of embarassment.”

I say: I liked this at the start, but the more I got to know Okonkwo, the less I liked him, and consequently this novel. He was a misogynistic bully that thought far too much of himself and his abilities, and it was a downright bore following him. The only redeeming factor of this book was the ending and the fact that I'll be discussing it for a long time to come.

I wasn't very impressed by Achebe's writing; it's all very commonplace. He kept using Nigerian words for things, which I don't particularly like, but there was a dictionary at the back of my edition and I learned the words after a while. There were a few witticisms scattered about, and I do like proverbs, so that was enjoyable.

The thing about this novel that took me by surprise is that the white man didn't arrive to the story until the last 50 pages. Everything up until then was Achebe describing village life and Okonkwo pretty much abusing anyone who crossed his path. The story did pick up a bit when the missionaries showed up, but it was all so very biased it just rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it's because I had already checked out of the story by then, and just wanted it all to end -

which it did with a bang.

Now, that ending is a whole nother issues. It seems as though I was waiting for it, and then when it finally arrived I almost felt as if I'd missed it. It felt rushed and maladroit – almost as if Achebe himself grew bored with his creation and wanted to wash his hands off it.

But then I took some time to let it marinate, and it seemed to me somewhat just.

I had to think for quite a while how to grade this book because the story itself and the execution is a 2, but then the moral of the story is a 4. I'm glad that I read it (I think) and Achebe brings up a lot of issues for further discussion, but I'm still torn. We'll settle for a 3 for now and then I might change it later on.


  1. that's exactly how i felt about that book...except for i'm not sure i even liked the ending...

  2. I've always heard so many great things about this, and while I was reading it I was surprised at how intensely I didn't like Okonkwo. Then I read some other reviews and realised it wasn't just me, and I didn't "miss something" - he was just a complete bastard.

  3. after reading your review i wondered if i should give the book another look and found this review of it at's a positive one and interesting viewpoint as well:

    and, he is a 'complete bastard', i thought i was missing something as well, as characters such as this usually have a redeeming quality that makes you sympathize with them. the above reviewer seems to have found it. not sure i see it though.

  4. It is a positive review, even though I don't agree with everything she writes. The part about the positive aspects of the missionaries, and the church being a safe haven is true enough - but what it also shows is that Christianity was thrust upon the Nigerians (and other Africans). It wasn't a case of the people wanting to 'find Christ', but more 'they had nowhere else to go,' which I think Achebe did a good portrayal of.

    Now the only redeeming qualities I saw in Okonkwo was that he loved his daughter (but that was only because she pleased him) and the suicide in the end (which he only did because he was so ashamed of himself - my take, I could be wrong). Like I said in my review, the moral of the story is a 4 - I liked that part of it, it's just the execution that I have issues with. Or maybe not so much the execution, as the fact that we had Okonkwo as a point of reference. In the review on goodreads she points out that his father's failure was one of the reasons he was so hard on himself and his son, and I can understand that, however, in my eyes that is no justification - which is what Okonkwo seems to take it as. "Woe is me, I had a failure for a father. Woe is me, I have a failure for a son. Woe is me, I have cowards for neihbours." He killed his 'adoptive son' in cld blod - and may have felt a little guilty afterwards. That was his chance to be a different type of man, but he didn't take it. Then he killed someone elses son, and his only regret was that he was exiled from his village. I'm sorry, but even Voldemort had more redeeming qualties than him (based on the flms cos I haven't read the books).