When African literature is brought to mind, there is only one work that comes to my mind. I think this novel is the only true black novel that I read owing to the fact that the author is a real African in the sense that he is born, raised, and probably still living in Africa.
Sure, we have read Morrison, Walker, and Hurston, and we are planning to read Wright and Ellison, but these authors are blacks living somewhere out of Africa. They depicted how it is to be Black American.
But Achebe is different. If you are interested to find out how it is to be African in Africa itself, this is the one to read.
This book is about a black man living in an African village teeming with black people, whose blackness range from dark brown to gray-black and even to the real black color. We read about an African warrior leading his people amidst the rise of colonialism and Christianity, the sweltering African heat, the unforgiving and variably infertile land, the deep African jungles, the traditions and culture of Nigeria, the African life of centuries past. Man’s struggle to redeem himself from an unfortunate life and his thirst for knowledge are also presented as the novel went on.
And there’s more. Family life in an inflexible patriarchal society, from the protagonist’s grandfather down to his son, is told to the reader. That’s roughly four generations, but it is not a saga, that is, it is not a reading brick as the length of the novel is moderate. It can even count as an easy weekend read, but it actually took longer than planned for me to finish this.
First, it was hard for me reading all the African names and places. My tongue is not used to them, hence, my mind follows. Second, it was also a struggle for me to attach myself to the characters. I didn’t like them, and the only character that I liked was the protagonist’s son who was given an English name. Hmm.
Third, I didn’t like the writing. Okay, I know I am going against a giant in African literature, but I just felt that the narrative was stiff. Maybe it had something to do with the African sounds, but even if we change the names to English sounding ones, it lacked subtlety. It’s just plain wham-bam-bam delivery to me.
But yes, one could not discount this as just another African novel. It’s larger than life themes make it a must read not only in the African circle but also to the rest of the world. After all, the world needs to know how civilizations are born and changed, if not transformed.
You must have heard that change is the only constant thing in the world. This clichéd paradox is, perhaps, the very heart of the novel. Just read the title over and over. Things fall apart. Things fall apart. Read it inside your ahead.
So why did things fall apart? It is because things can change in a heartbeat. Well, maybe not as fast as that, but the things that we once used to hold cannot always be what they are right now. Traditions change. Beliefs change. People change. Even times change. All these changes occur concurrently without even our conscious knowing of it. We just have the vaguest feeling of it, and then we realize in a while that things are different. They might not have necessarily fallen apart, but they are different.
And since this is a world of changes, we should have the capacity to embrace dynamism. Have you heard of the story of the oak and the reed? The oak was uprooted from the ground because he could not bend with the strong winds. The reed, the thin and seemingly sick reed, outlasted the supposedly mighty oak. So we should go on a diet start taking gymnastics, yes?
Seriously, whether the changes that we embrace are for better or for worse, we couldn’t always tell. The answers are not readily available, and when we are able to distinguish the good and the bad of it, it is almost always too late. Still, we stand and glide with the wind.