Apr 11, 2010

Things Fall Apart

Before I do this first Blessay, I must make a disclaimer. These are not meant to be literary masterpieces. They are just my thoughts. And they might be short.

Ok, so. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.

The first thing that struck me about the writing is how very African it is. And I don't even know what I mean by that, except that it's similar to other novels I've read written by Africans or about Africans from the perspective of those who are close to the cultures they're writing about. It's something in the style of description: sparse but pungent, unapologetic. Also, there's the feeling of reading about beliefs and practices, a whole way of life, in fact, that seems very alien to me. But these things are written in such a way that you know that the main characters and the writer take them completely for granted as being normal, and so, as a reader, you do as well.

The central message of this book, in fact, is a lot about this. You read about a man and a tribe who has known nothing except the ways of the culture they have practiced for centuries and generations. It is interesting to me how the author somehow conveys this culture so vividly and completely that you, yourself feel immersed in it just by reading the story, and yet that's not even the main focus. There is so much in here about relationships, about human interactions, about the ways of societies in general. The subtle commentary is about how people find a framework in which to live their lives and explain away mysteries, and also know where they stand in society. You see the people in the story as relatable, you recognize things in their relationships that seem very much like things in your own life, in spite of the gaping cavern that separates your own understanding of the world from the way the characters in the book understand it.

In the last few chapters, you can actually feel, for yourself, the strange bottoming-out of that world as it is told through the eyes of the main character. I think that the real value in this book is understanding how different ways of doing things aren't necessarily any better than any other. Those of us who come from a culture that is inspired or derived from Western-Europe tend to more easily view ourselves as the norm, simply because we tend to dominate a lot of the word that we know about. But this book underlined for me the idea that we are just another tribe, in a sense, with our own superstitions and our own ways of dealing with the troubles that plague every society.

OK. So, that's all folks. I would recommend this book without hesitation. It does have some violence, but that's really all as far as objectionable material goes. And it's an interesting read, with an important message. And the writing is, of course, superb. (I have a feeling I'm going to be saying that a lot.)


David L said...

I haven't read your review, but I'd like to say BEFORE I do that I adore this book. I recommend it to nearly everyone I met who is looking for a good book to read. Love it. Now I'll go see what you have to say about it.

Putz said...


David L said...

Okay, now that I've read your review I'll only add that this book was written in direct contrast to Josef Conrad's terrible "Heart of Darkness," a true waste of paper in my opinion.

I'll also add that I'm fearful for the rest of your list. If you started with "Things Fall Apart," I'm not sure there is much better out there. This book is on my Top 5 List for all time, and given the quantity of literature I read, that is truly saying something.

NoSurfGirl said...

RE heart of darkness: I'll have to go back and read that...

or not. It was assigned in my senior year (AP english) and I literally COULD NOT drag myself through it. BUt somehow I aced the exam anyway...

I went back and read it a few years later and found it horrifying and interesting. You have to admit the description is really well done. But... yeah. As to message and purpose, I agree far more with Things Fall Apart.

Is conrad on my list? I'll have to go look to make sure (I hope not!!)

NoSurfGirl said...

I do have a conrad! But it's not heart of darkness.

Josh said...

I read this book a while ago for a history class. I think you did a good job at describing the power of the book. At the time I read the book I had a hard time deciding whether I liked it or not. It was written very well and very powerfully.

I guess I struggled with understanding the message of the book. Perhaps it was just to help others better understand the world of another who is within a culture that is foreign to ourselves, which I think is basically what your conclusion of what the book was about.

Another book that you may enjoy, but I'm not sure if it is on your book list is Silence by Shusaku Endo. I read that book for the same history class I read Things Fall Apart. It has a similar premise with two different cultures meshing in Asia, the culture of the Christian priest and Japan.

Anyways, nice review!