Things Fall Apart
The African Trilogy
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,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-W. B. Yeats
Things fall apart is the first book in Chinua Achebe’s bestselling African trilogy. It is set in a precolonial Nigeria of late nineteenth century as the europeans begin to arrive.
In Things fall Apart the Igbo tribes increasingly find their cultures, long held beliefs and traditions caught at crossroads with not just the white colonisers but also the new religion and culture they bring from the west.
The protagonist, Okonkwo, is not a very likeable character. He epitomises everything I dislike in a man - beats his wives, has bad temper and little patience, holds toxic notions about masculinity and has little tolerance for the weak. Despite all his faults, it’s impossible not to pity him a little because all the life he knows is that of his ancestors and it is being taken from him slowly and inexorably by the colonisers and settlers. It is a testament to the writing prowess of Chinua Achebe who develops the protagonist strongly enough for the story to remain compelling. Okonkwo’s story is divided into a before and after with the demarcation line being an act of violence. The second half of the book covers the emergence of Christian missionaries in the area and how their growing influence affects the local tribes. The injection of christianity is not violent but its rejection and invalidation of tribal religions is brutal.
On the margins of Okonkwos narrative we are introduced to the ordinary lives of the Igbo people. Their culture, religion, practices and beliefs are all very fascinating. I especially enjoyed the folklore. The Igbo culture is rich with superstition and storytelling. Each aspect of life is rife with African proverbs, folktales and clan rituals. Its one of the few books that opens a window into how the African tribal communities operated and despite lack of so-called civilised institutions/tools managed to run pretty smoothly. Community spirit, rules and importance of ancestors played a very important part in their daily lives.
This book was unusually difficult to understand in the beginning but quickly became quite engaging. It’s a comparatively short novel of 200 pages with a turn of the century story told with great mastery and authenticity.
Postscript 1: Ive been reading the Stormlight Archive Series by Brandon Sanderson - each book is 1.3k pages long and its very very high fantasy so I am at loss on how to write about it. Probably I wont
Postscript 2: December is miserable. It’s the three damn Ds dark and damp and distressing. I have never disliked a month so much before. I relish the chill but BRING BACK THE SUNLIGHT!