Welcome to theopinionatedinternet.blogspot.com, a whirling hotpot of political opinion, poetry, prose, philosophy, reviewing, and other assorted wild ramblings! Here you will find: PWN, Grand Reviewer and assistant thinker; JAFHR, head of Philosophy, Literature, and Ambassador for France; JHWW, critic/comic materialist; and iTech, computer technician, pilot-in-the-making and co-politician. Fare Thee Well!

Pour les Francophones

Cher Lecteur/lectrice,
Nous vous souhaitons la bienvenue A notre blog, L'Internet Dogmatique. Vous trouverez ici tout votre bonheur- Literature, Philosophie, Politique, Revues, Technologie... Par dessus tout, vous trouverez des opinions. Ne manquez pas a publiez le votre!
Pour rendre tout cet Anglais lisible, traduisez simplement cette page en utilisant le gadget que vous trouverez sur votre droite, un peu en bas. Nous regrettons que cette traduction est rarement exacte; il serait peut-etre plus sage d'utiliser ce blog pour pratiquer votre Anglais.
Bien le Bonjour, Messires et Demoiselles,
JAFHR, le Fou Francophone.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Things Fall Apart

African writers don't sell. This was the claim made by many publishing companies in 1958 when refusing Chinua Achebe's first novel, Things Fall Apart. Over the next fifty-five years, they would be proved conclusively wrong: Things Fall Apart has sold ten million copies in fifty languages. And judging by the coverage the book has been getting following the author's death earlier this year, one would assume it has been accepted as one of the greatest books of all time. In fact, this is not the case: many readers have criticised Achebe's writing style in particular, for its extreme simplicity. Personally, I loved this style and found that when he departed from it for more more elaborate description he was still successful, but I suppose this is a matter of taste.

The cover of the edition I read. Having finished it, I still don't know what the chicken head is supposed to mean..

If I had my own criticism, I'd say that the characters are all slightly static: none of them visibly evolve as the story progresses. But it is a simple tale and the only character that matters falls precisely because he refuses to change.

The things doing the titular falling apart are the African customs and indeed the villages' own gods and traditions, displaced by Christianity. Although the Western missionaries are not depicted as bringers of wisdom and true faith, they are not demonised as colonial oppressors. Instead this is an entirely balanced view of the coming of the white man: all the main characters are deeply flawed, and when they arrive the white characters are no different.

Chinua Achebe: 'the father of modern African literature' (though he hated this title, it is often used of him so I may as well include it)

Okonkwo, the protagonist, symbolises everything that was wrong with pre-colonial African society: his masculinity defines him to the extent that he is forced into conflict, first with his wives, then the missionaries, and finally his own tribe. Refusing to adapt to changing circumstances is ultimately Okonkwo's downfall: he values tradition for its own sake to the extent that he cannot give it up.

Although the novel is about much more than colonisation, it is this about which it had the most insight. Things Falls Apart reveals the more human reasons that people converted to Christianity: a rejection of tradition, the promise of better moral values and the beauty of the missionaries' message (JAFHR is quite keen on this video about evangelising through beauty in the Catholic Church). This makes far more sense than the history book reasoning that they were bribed into it with cheap trinkets.

It is this kind of delicate use of detail that vindicates Chinua's claim that only an African writer could do justice to the story he wanted to tell. It is undoubtedly a story that had to be told and more than selling well, this book has become a true classic and the quintessential African novel, despite its obvious Western influences.

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