Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)


things fall apart
Image from Amazon

A short novel but definitely worth the read! The writing itself is short and simple, but is chock full of folklore and metaphors. There isn’t a single word I don’t know, but I still enjoy the outlandish phrases that Achebe uses. The plot (or rather plots) is/are engaging. There is never a point where one of the stories feels drawn out. In the beginning, most of the stories revolve around anecdotes showing the tribal way of life; later, it shows how the tribes become slowly changed, and has stories that are relevant to the overall plot. You can’t really tell from the blurb, but the basic idea, the reason that the title is “Things Fall Apart”, is the end of the traditional tribal ways.

The characters themselves aren’t fleshed out in a way that we would think of from modern books, where they speak in unique ways and have their own hopes and dreams and character quirks. But a few of the characters, like Enzima, are still interesting just because of the situations that they’re put in, if not necessarily because of their personalities. Even before the tribal ways are upset by missionaries, the perils of everyday life and chance events still put some of them in jeopardy.

It’s the kind of book that you would read if you ever enjoyed reading about myths (from any culture) or “primitive” societies. I especially liked how the missionaries’ relationships to the tribes changed over time. It really showed how Christian influence began and slowly took over in a way that few history textbooks can show you. It gives specific events of when the two groups come into conflict and describes how the church slowly gained power over the natives. I’ve personally never read anything like it. It really shows you how the natives viewed their own gods and medicinal practices and how they viewed the missionaries’ ways when they did finally arrive.

Another thing that was interesting, though not huge, was how the arrogant characters didn’t upset me. Normally when a character is sexist or racist or just full of himself, I start to hate him. But in Things Fall Apart, there really aren’t any good guys or bad guys; everyone is just a product of their station in life.

It’s not one of my favorite books of all time, but it’s certainly up there on the “flawless” list. I highly recommend it to those who like folktales, history, and/or philosophy.


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