When The Mind Becomes Open: Book Review On Things Fall Apart

Book Cover of Things Fall Apart
PICTURE COURTESY: http://www.devon.gov.uk

On the mention of the name “Africa”, certain things come to our mind even before we can censor them:

  1. Drum beats and music.
  2. Tribal men and women with the typical attire that has been stereotyped by the media.
  3. Elephants, lions and other wild animals that we get to watch on National Geographic.
  4. The colours red, green, yellow, purple and black (again a media influence I must say).
  5. The darkness and utter poverty – THE most prominent image.

We have a very wrong notion about the African countries; notions that has been passed down to us through books and electronic media. We tend to think of the African people as a group of people, who have yet to see the light of civilization, as we know it. We deliciously nurture this idea that Africa looks upon us with awe and wonder. This is an anglicised angle, from where the world has not deviated.

Things Fall Apart has given me another angle, from where I can view Africa differently. It has forced me to consider that there is a possibility of, Africa thinking of me as the weird one – whose ways are confusing and strange. This novel has convinced me that I don’t have to be a white woman or at least a woman with the western ways to be me.

I can be me with the Indian accent and certain belief systems that the west has written off as strange and uncivilized.

Achebe presents before us an image of the white man seen from the eye and mind of an African – a strange man who seemed to speak through his nose and ride an iron horse. He was a man who could not understand their customs and their Gods – A man who actually believed that their Gods “Ani and Amadior” were harmless. For centuries Africa had the west telling her that she is a savage; that her customs are barbaric. Achebe uses the West’s language to ask him a question in return: How can your people understand my culture when your people don’t even understand my tongue?

The beauty of this novel lies in the way Achebe has fused words and proverbs of Umuofia into the novel. They are the pulse of the novel – through which the African drum beats reverberate in one’s mind like a background score in a movie. The characters are vibrant and alive throughout the novel and one does not feel like they are “aliens” from another planet. It is ironic that in history, the white man has never had the openness  that Obierika’s brother showed when he said: “What is good in one place is bad in another place.” in spite of the civilization and enlightenment that the white man claimed as his.

The novel revolves around the character Okonkwo – a self-made man who sworn to be nothing like his father had ever been. Everything that Okonkwo owned, be it reputation or wealth, he earned it through the sweat of his brow. As a reader, I have mixed emotions towards this character. He is a man of absolutes and shows no lenience towards his son Nwoye. He treats his wives rudely and has great contempt for anything that is feminine.

He laments that his daughter Ezinma, had not been born a boy; and he scolds himself for regretting the murder of his adopted son Ikemefuna by asking himself, “When did you become a shivering old woman?”

In spite of these short comings, I find myself respecting this man for his shunning of laziness and his sense of patriotism. Even though his patriotism lead to him committing suicide, I find myself looking up at this man for having given it one last go, to preserve his culture which he was deeply fond of.

So, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has succeeded in helping me understand that there is much more to Africa than the drum beats, ethnic groups and poverty. This novel has given me the maturity to accept that “what is good in one place, is bad in another place.”

I would Rate the Book 5/5 stars.


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