This month’s book in the boys book club was an interesting choice. It has first surfaced as a nomination over two years ago and as often happens it re-surfaced again to get its moment in the sun. As usual, we were drawn to it by the obscure author (at least for us) and the intriguing premise.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is actually the second African author we’ve read, so we’re not 100% strangers to this strand of literature although I suspect we’ve not even scratched the scratch on the surface.
I thought it would be interesting for readers of the blog to see an actual review from the night.
If one of us is unable to make the meeting for some reason, we ask for a written review to be submitted. And to be honest a written review can be just as powerful and insightful as a verbal review. Michael (or Monty as he is otherwise known) couldn’t make the meeting on Friday so he submitted a written review.
Here it is, in all its full glory…
Things Fall Apart
I know we have said this a lot recently but again this is a book which I believe when it comes to the reviews, could produce a mouth-watering result. (And I hope it did).
I want to say: stark, difficult, strange, stripped back, brutal and yet at times peaceful, soothing and amazing. All of those things in just 150 pages is good going in my opinion!
First of all we have read African literature before. Camus of course – Algerian by birth. Nevertheless I feel we kicked on to another level with Achebe. A good thing I hope you all agree. Right from the off it just felt different. Not in any negative or even positive way – but just different. Maybe it was the names. Maybe it was the style of the author. Maybe it was my pre-conceived ideas of what I should or should not expect from an African writer. I didn’t struggle with it at first but I wasn’t gripped. When it became apparent we were not to meet in August the opportunity was there to put the book aside for a few weeks and return again later.
When I did return and like all good books I was drawn in. I began to enjoy and look forward to the little stories (or fables, myths etc) of why certain things were as they were – the snake who boiled seven pans of leaves (to be left with three), the moon being sullen because it will not rise until near dawn, the Ogbanje child who dies and comes back to be reborn and a whole host of others.
The whole regime of the village, the structure, the way things were as they were and had been that way since people could remember. The role of men, elders, women, sons, daughters, wives, Gods, brought almost a calmness, a relaxed manner at times to what I was reading. This was when I felt almost soothed by the text, because all the difficult things we have in our own society were just not there in Okonkwo’s. For the most part things were done in one way and one way only – thats it! No choices, decisions, myriad variations, minutiae or quite frankly the general bollocks we piss around with most of our lives.
The story of Ezinma being carried off by Chielo with Ekwefi following was one I particularly liked. I was drawn to the description of the dark where it was impossible to see, no moon to guide them. Chielos strength and strange behaviour, walking round the villages and the visit to the cave. The walk felt well described and I could almost visualise their long trek and at times the strange shapes that came out of the gloom for Ekwefi and sense the tricks her mind played on her as she continued following through to moonrise and the cave.
Okonkwo’s gun going off came like a thunderbolt – totally unexpected – and of course from there things do begin to fall apart. To me the title itself is clever. When the author entitles his work: “Things Fall Apart” is he saying it with a large sigh and resigned inevitability about life. A bit like saying “shit happens.” Or is he saying it as a warning…..this is why Things Fall Apart – “read on and learn!”
Ultimately I can’t figure out which side of the fence the author wants us to fall on – if indeed he wants us to fall at all. We know its wrong to kill twins and mutilate children. We know its wrong to deny people an education if that is what they have become aware of and choose to pursue. But what if no white man had ever ever ever set foot in Africa? What if we had just completely left the Continent untouched? A discussion for another day.
I won’t waffle on and just recount what happens or go over particular sections that appealed. But at the end I was left with an ambivalence around the story, the author, Okonkwo and the arrival of the Missionaries. And I’m okay with that, because although it leads to a sense of unfulfillment, it also feels very real and believable. Thought-provoking and resonant. It packed a punch in 150 pages.
Michael’s score: 7 out of 10