RAD Book Club review: Things Fall Apart

06 May 2016

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a post-colonial novel, describing life in an Igbo village in the 1890’s through the protagonist Okonkwo.

It recounts how the villagers react to the coming of Christian Missionaries who set up a church. The snacks for the meeting were, as usual, based on the book and consisted of yam muffins and cola bottles (Kola nuts being unavailable).

We first discussed the tragedy of Okonkwo who feels so shamed by his Father’s failure that he tries to be the opposite of him in every way, even in the traits that made him popular, such as his friendliness and happiness. Okonkwo sees these qualities as weak and distances himself from his feelings, leading him to be “well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond” but not a good father or husband and not a happy man. Although he was well-liked Okonwo’s father was considered a failure and feminine because he was unable to provide for his family. He was perceived as lazy, preferring to drink palm-wine with his neighbours or play on his flute, than clear land to plant yams. In Igbo society, worth is measured by material gain rather than happiness: a large yam harvest or many wives indicates a masculine man. The group saw similarities with western society’s obsession with having the best cars, the biggest TVs.

We most enjoyed the style and language that Achebe used. Whilst the language seems very stylised and simple, it is also very rich in ideas, using proverbs and interspersing folktales within the main narrative: “Eneke the bird says that since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching”. We all loved the storytelling feel and the links to oral history. Through the use of simple language and traditional proverbs, Achebe gave us a different way of understanding the world and introduced us to the beliefs of a different culture from within.

Whilst this is the shortest book that RAD Book Club has read, and was easy to read, it covered a lot of ground and generated a great deal of discussion about issues such as colonisation; what makes ‘civilisation’; the oppression of native groups, and genetic trauma; whether charities have taken over from missionaries and resulted in westernised clothing and ways of doing things that subsume local practices; and whether this matters. Members also recommend watching a video of how to make ‘foo-foo’, the staple dish of pounded yams, which is mentioned often in the novel.
Achebe’s short, powerful novel is the first Book Club book that all members unanimously agreed was an enjoyable read and several people said that they would like to read the other two books in this trilogy.