Things Fall Apart Archives
2007 Man Booker International Prize
You know how when something hits your radar, you start seeing it everywhere? Having just discussed Things Fall Apart last month, I couldn't not notice Chinua Achebe's name at the top of the (alphabetical) Judges List for this year's Man Booker International Prize. From the press release:
Chinua Achebe (born November 16, 1930) is a Nigerian novelist and poet, an esteemed and controversial literary critic, and one of the most widely read authors of the 20th century. He attended Government College in Umuahia from 1944 to 1947, and the University of Ibadan from 1948 to 1953. At the University of Ibadan, then known as the University of London, Achebe studied English, history and theology. A diplomat in the ill-fated Biafran government of 1967-1970, Achebe's work is primarily interested in African politics, the depiction of Africa and Africans in the West, and the intricacies of pre-colonial African culture and civilization, as well as the effects of colonialisation on African societies.
Things Fall Apart, was published in 1958, and is often considered among the finest novels ever written. Having sold over 10 million copies around the world, it has been translated into 50 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time, and is the recipient of over 30 honorary degrees as well as numerous awards for his work.
Update: Congratulations, Chinua Achebe!
Since this has been a bad week for both Eddie (work, home remodeling, impending visitors) and me (relative in the hospital), not much has gone on with this month's discussion of Things Fall Apart. Ana has also mentioned that she has read the book and is unusually busy as well.
As a result, I'm going to make the discussion thread sticky for another week to see if the extra time can help us get something going. If you have read this book but have never left a comment here before, please do so. Everyone is welcome to participate. The more voices, the better.
_things fall apart_ is a tragic story about the effects of the white man on okonkwo, the hero, and his world. chinua achebe devotes the entire first book to building up, at least for the reader, the notion of order and harmony as it existed for okonkwo in his african village. his agrarian community had evolved to include such things as ancestor worship, polygamy, and certain societal understandings and (sometimes fierce) rules (about twins, the oracle, etc.) that had likely been passed down from generation to generation. even okonkwo's activity as a "superhuman" member of a council of elders was understood as part of his place in the world. the main character, however, is subject to the same boundaries and traditions he espouses. after a freak accident on a holy day, okonkwo is exiled to his motherland for seven years.
in this time, okonkwo maintains his resolve to not be the failure his father was. but despite his strength and determination, an even stronger and more determined force has arrived, at first as a christian mission. the white man is immune to the superstitions of the local people, and seem limitless in his power to subdue the forests and to attract, even value, the outcasts of society. the movement grows, okonkwo's son is converted (and subsequently disowned), and by time okonkwo returns to his homeland, what for him, and possibly generations, had been a clearly understood life had started to crumble.
"things fall apart; the center cannot hold."--w.b. yeats
the center of the story, of course, is okonkwo. the narrator effectively describes his predicament as his village is confronted by the white man, his religion, and his government. changes he never could have imagined are happening all around, and okonkwo, unfortunately, doesn't survive. how many other peoples, and their stories, have met the same fate in the face of a new culture? the growing influences of culture on (over) each other continues to feed debates on globalism today.
what is okonkwo's flaw?
how do rituals/religion in okonkwo's clan compare and contrast to christianity?
the coming of the white man was clearly not good for okonkwo, but what about the rest of his community?
the district commissioner considers titling his work, _the pacification of the primitive tribes of the niger_. what does that say about his views of okonkwo's people? are they also reflected by the other white men in the story?
why so much kola nut and palm wine?
This Month's Selection: Things Fall Apart
Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements. As a young man of eighteen he had brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. Amalinze was the great wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. He was called the Cat because his back would never touch the earth. It was this man that Okonkwo threw in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights.
The drums beat and the flutes sang and the spectators held their breath. Amalinze was a wily craftsman, but Okonkwo was as slippery as a fish in water. Every nerve and every muscle stood out on their arms, on their backs and their thighs, and one almost heard them stretching to breaking point. In the end Okonkwo threw the Cat.
That was many years ago, twenty years or more, and during this time Okonkwo's fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan. He was tall and huge, and his bushy eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look. He breathed heavily, and it was said that, when he slept, his wives and children in their out-houses could hear him breathe. When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody. And he did pounce on people quite often. He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his words out quickly enough, he would use his fists. He had no patience with unsuccessful men. He had had no patience with his father.
—Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Seriously, read this book. If you've ever wondered what village life in Africa was like, before and after colonialism, you will learn quite a bit. A masterfully crafted main character, Okonkwo is both the epitome of an angry man and a tragic hero. Achebe's narration is decidedly unsentimental, yet the reader can't help but feel moved by the novel's story. Things Fall Apart is infinitely superior to that Eggers monstrosity.
BookBlog's Upcoming Discussions
Three future discussions are currently on our schedule. No membership is required, so I encourage each of you reading this to participate and add your thoughts to the conversation.
March 26, 2007: Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is an excellent selection to follow What Is the What. Now that I have read both, I personally feel Achebe's work is the superior novel about a tragic life in Africa. Set in a village in Nigeria and written by a Nigerian author, it has authenticity, a quality I found severely lacking in Eggers's effort. In addition, Things Fall Apart is a top twelve title from the list of Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century.
April 23, 2007: Last weekend we had a family dinner, and my sister, Joanne, brought by a couple of books to share. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks was one of them, and she has agreed to moderate a discussion for us. Surprisingly, I barely had to do any begging. If you like Chuck Palahniuk, I bet you'll like Iain Banks.
[Aside: Palahniuk has a new one, Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey, coming out in May 2007. Please-oh-please, someone send me an advance! BookBlog, PO Box 324, Budd Lake, NJ 07828. I love Chuck!]
May, June, and July 2007: We have open slots for each of these months. I am looking for a title to fill one of them. Anyone interested in leading us for the other two? Anyone?
August 20, 2007: Although August is a way away, Daisy is really, really nice in agreeing to have a second go at discussing Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff. Her work schedule is hectic right now, which is why it's being put off for a while. As soon as I finish my current read, I will gladly pluck this one off the nagging pile that sits next to my desk. I hope you will also chime in when the discussion rolls around.
Nicholson Baker's A Box of Matches: The discussion of this title begins on Monday. If you were planning on reading it but haven't, there's still plenty of time. A Box of Matches is feather-light reading since it isn't really a novel, has no conflict or resolution, and doesn't bother burdening the reader with having to follow a plot. It does have a setting, though. I plan on rereading it tonight in order to put together topics of discussion, and I anticipate being finished in an hour or so.
Dave Eggers's What Is the What: Last night, I picked up my copy at Borders and was pleasantly surprised by the hardest working bookstore employee I've ever encountered. Their computer said it was out of stock, so he naturally offered to order it. I refused by saying I needed it for a book club, and he walked me over to the "E" section explaining that sometimes their computer system says zero when there is actually one. And I got the last copy. Later, he offered assistance again as I looked confused after losing my co-shopper somewhere in the aisles. When I checked out, the same dude was working a register. He was everywhere.
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart: As you can see by the left sidebar, Eddie will be moderating in March. Things Fall Apart should be an interesting follow up to What Is the What as each tells a story from Africa. I would also like to compare it to Doctor Zhivago because both were first published in English only a year apart. Doctor Zhivago, in my opinion, has lost a lot of its initial impact as time has passed. Things Fall Apart is a very different kind of book, but I'd like to think a bit on how well it has withstood the test of time.
Spelling Counts: This has nothing to do with books or future discussions, but it does relate to writing well. After Borders, I went to the grocery store. While browsing produce, I saw a weird-looking item called "Catus Pear." At least, that's what the sign said. I picked it up for a closer look and immediately regretted the action because it was actually a "Cactus Pear." Over the course of the evening, I found several tiny but painful spines stuck in various fingers by the most malicious fruit ever. Spell check, people.