Achebe Chinua

Things Fall Apart

Anchor/Random House, New York 1994


The first edition of this Nigerian classic was published in 1959. Its author was born in Nigeria in 1930 and lived there as a radio journalist until the Biafran War broke out in 1966, when he emigrated to the USA. Here he worked as Professor of English at the University of Massachussetts. He won numerous renowned prizes for his literary work and now lives in New York.

“Things fall apart” was his first novel, and presumably tells the story of his ancestors, specially his father, in the character of Okonkwo, a powerful member of the Ibo village community. We hear about his fight to become a wealthy and respected member of the Ibo society. And we take part in the daily life and struggles of this tribe. Okonkwo is able to support 3 wives who live in constant fear of his violent temper. They serve him like slaves, as do his daughters.

 His favourite son lacks his father´s macho-behaviour, which means constant trouble for both of them. We hear about the Ibo traditions, not all of them likeable, but definitely “ethnic“. Newborn twins, for example, are left in the “Evil Woods” to die. Okonkwo takes part in the ritual killing of a young boy from another tribe who dared to abduct one of the Ibo girls.

Then disaster strikes this peaceful, humane society, when British missionaries set up their church in the Evil Woods and are not killed by the likewise resident spirits. On the contrary, they enforce colonial law, meaning Okonkwo, among others, is no longer allowed to kill as he thinks necessary. And twins are forced to survive in the church compound. His son becomes a member of the church society. In the end, Okonkwo hangs himself and “things fall apart”.

All this is told in the narrative style of oral tradition, meandering from one topic to the next in circles. Not surprisingly, Achebe never returned to live in Nigeria.