Things fall apart by Chinua Achebe

I loved this book. Chinua Achebe writes a sad and melancholic tale about a man called Okonkwo in a small African tribal village called Umuofia. Okonkwo is a man feared and respected by everyone in his village and beyond. He is a wrestling champion and man who enjoys fame and respect because of his hard work. He is a self made man. His father was considered a looser because he did not work very hard to sustain his crops and did nothing else but play music and laze around. He died as an outcast.
 
The only thing Okonkwo fears is failure and being compared to his father. So he works hard, becomes prosperous and lives comfortably with his 3 wives and children.
 
But life is not fair to him. After working hard in his village to gain a title and a good life, he is exiled from his fatherland because he kills a boy by mistake. When European colonists come to his village and build a church and start converting the villagers into Christians, Okonkwo wants to take action, he wants to fight the Europeans and preserve his culture and religion and his gods. But no one else wants to fight. Okonkwo watches his son join the Europeans and turn into a Christian and he is in utter despair because he cannot do anything about it.
 
This book has a sad and tragic end.
What I liked about the book was the simple descriptions of the day to day life of the people in a tribal village. I enjoyed reading about how their lives revolved around the growing and harvesting of Yams, how their beliefs in their gods affected the men and women in the village and their unease and anger when Europeans come and build a church in the village.
I enjoyed reading about folk tales passed down from generation to generation.
 
Even though I like the book I would like to mention a few points here as I have heard a lot of criticism and bad reviews for this book.
 
‘Things fall apart’ has been termed as a literary masterpiece. But if you looking for outstanding language, this book is not for you. The language is as simple as it can get, which I think is the beauty of it. If you want to clear your prejudice that African villages are backward and primitive and you think reading this book will give you an insight into why they what they do, do NOT read this book. I thought the tribal customs and beliefs were down right against humanity and whatever way the author would have put it, I wouldn’t have believed otherwise. Would you approve of leaving new born twins in a jungle because twins are considered evil? Mutilating a dead infant’s body so that it isn’t born again? Out casting a man from his village and his loved ones because he has a disease?

If you are looking for a good plot and well rounded and lovable characters, again this book is not for you. I hated Okonkwo. He was a tyrant and he repeatedly beat his wives and kids. I couldn’t sympathize with him no matter what.
 
I couldn’t take sides with the European colonists either. Though they brought good things in the village, they brought law and order, I hated the fact that they thought their God was the greatest. Trying to undermine any religion is always wrong. Every religion has its good and bad points, what you can do is point out the bad points or the bad interpretations of it. Sorry, but I am against statements like, ‘There is no God except our God’. I believe God is one, whether he is in the form of Christ or Allah or Krishna, everyone is the same, there are just different names given by humans. I don’t want this to turn into a religious discussion, so I’ll stop.
 
All I can say is I loved this book. Read it if you want to live and experience a culture very different from your own. ‘Things fall apart’ is distinctively African.

Half of a yellow sun

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” takes place in Nigeria during the Nigerian- Biafra war in 1967-1970. The effect of the war is shown through the dynamic relationships of five people’s lives ranging from high ranking political figures, a professor, an American citizen, and a house boy. After the British left Nigeria and stopped ruling, conflicts arose over what government would rule over the land. The land split and the Nigeria- Biafra war started. The lives of the main characters drastically changed and were torn apart by the war and decisions in their personal life. (From wikipedia)

I bought this book on an impulse. I had never heard of Adichie before, nor i had heard that she was the winner of the Orange Broadband Prize for fiction. I liked the story, the concept and I wanted a chance to know and understand something about Nigerian History.

Africa for me has always been vast stretch of rain forests, Sierra Leon and child soldiers.

I expected something in the lines of a war story from her, something like ‘A long way home’ by Ishmael Biah. Something which showed the struggle of the people during the war, the atrocities committed during the war.

But this book is all that and much more. In fact I wouldn’t call it a war story. It is the story of unforgettable characters; characters like Odenigbo, Olanna, Ugwu, Richard and Kaniene. They remain etched in your mind long after the book is over.

It is very difficult to believe that this is Adichie’s second novel.
As Chinua Achebe says about her,‘we do not associate wisdom with beginners, but here is a new writer endowed with the gift of ancient storytellers.’
And what a storyteller she is.

The book starts with a 13 year old Ugwu who comes to live with Odenigbo as a house boy. Right from the start you get pulled into the story. You can feel their emotions, their turmoil right through the pages of the book.
It has the backdrop of the formation and the death of Biafra as well. I won’t get into the story for the fear of spoiling it for those who haven’t read it.
All I can say is she has a very powerful command and control of the language. Her writing is an Art work. I fell in love with words like sonorous, sardonic, abstemious, sacrosanct, lugubrious all over again.

Miss Adichie in one of her interviews says she would like the new book to open a conversation about our history and the war. “When you say Biafra, some people would say, ‘Oh those Igbo people who want their own country!’, and nobody asks how did Biafra come about. I am hoping that people read the book and realize that a grave injustice has been done to Igbo people; it has to be acknowledged.”

It has been acknowledged indeed.

As Chinua Achebe says, ”She knows what is at stake and what to do about it.

Site : Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Website (You can read a lot of short stories written by her)