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One of Chinua Achebe's many achievements in his acclaimed first novel,Things Fall Apart, is his relentlessly unsentimental rendering of Nigerian tribal life before and after the coming of colonialism. First published in 1958, just two years before Nigeria declared independence from Great Britain, the book eschews the obvious temptation of depicting pre-colonial life as a kind of Eden. Instead, Achebe sketches a world in which violence, war, and suffering exist, but are balanced by a strong sense of tradition, ritual, and social coherence. His Ibo protagonist, Okonkwo, is a self-made man. The son of a charming ne'er-do-well, he has worked all his life to overcome his father's weakness and has arrived, finally, at great prosperity and even greater reputation among his fellows in the village of Umuofia. Okonkwo is a champion wrestler, a prosperous farmer, husband to three wives and father to several children. He is also a man who exhibits flaws well-known in Greek tragedy:
Okonkwo ruled his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children. Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo's fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.
And yet Achebe manages to make this cruel man deeply sympathetic. He is fond of his eldest daughter, and also of Ikemefuna, a young boy sent from another village as compensation for the wrongful death of a young woman from Umuofia. He even begins to feel pride in his eldest son, in whom he has too often seen his own father. Unfortunately, a series of tragic events tests the mettle of this strong man, and it is his fear of weakness that ultimately undoes him.

Achebe does not introduce the theme of colonialism until the last 50 pages or so. By then, Okonkwo has lost everything and been driven into exile. And yet, within the traditions of his culture, he still has hope of redemption. The arrival of missionaries in Umuofia, however, followed by representatives of the colonial government, completely disrupts Ibo culture, and in the chasm between old ways and new, Okonkwo is lost forever. Deceptively simple in its prose, Things Fall Apart packs a powerful punch as Achebe holds up the ruin of one proud man to stand for the destruction of an entire culture. --Alix Wilber

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ISBN-10:  0385474547
ISBN-13:  978-0385474542
Author:  Chinua Achebe
Genre:  Literature & Fiction
Publisher:  Anchor
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review by . January 20, 2013
I am truly disappointed that I wasn't assigned this in High School. I just finished reading this and...God, I loved it. It's a mini-epic, an exploration of the Nigerian culture before and after the coming of European colonialism, but centered around the tragedy of one man. Why is it so good? Well, let's consider the title first of all. "Things Fall Apart". Taken from Yeats' poem, "The Second Coming", the title is so simple and yet gets to the heart of the matter …
Quick Tip by . January 19, 2013
It's no secret why this novel is considered Chinua Achebe's masterpiece.  It is a wonderfully stark and balanced portrayal of Igbo tribal life as well as being an excellent tragedy in its own right.  Okonkwo is definitely one of the more unique antiheroes I've ever encountered in literature.  Some readers may find the plot kind of slow, episodic and aimless at the beginning, but this is intentional as it makes the ending of the story have that much more impact.  Highly …
review by . December 24, 2004
This novel has been assigned for the intro to literature course I teach to technical college students, most of whom are immigrants or their children, most from Asia or Latin America. I've wondered about the relevance, therefore, of a Nigerian story set a century ago, written in a rather formal, faintly Britishised English prose, which for most of the story takes a leisurely, rather episodic pace until sudden eruptions of energy--as in the night pursuing the priestess, or the fate of the foster son …
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