Why should you read Things Fall Apart?
#BlackHistoryMonth has just come to a close in the UK, but the history of Black people is more than a campaign. Sometimes multi-ethnic characterisation is not enough. The desire to read from a range of perspectives is perhaps something you have long had but seldom been invited to cultivate. That was the case for me, back in Brussels and later on.
I studied Comparative literature. It was the closest thing to so-called World literature available to me when choosing my potential alma mater. Still, a majority of texts primarily looked at the world from the optic of ‘The Canon’ synonymous with universality. In other words, most experiences were presented from the standpoint of how men in the West saw the rest of the world.
Things Fall Apart does no such pandering. It is one of few English language classics I have read that does not centre itself on Western perception. Simply because for many Africans those interactions were not the norm prior to colonisation.
What is the book about?
The novel follows Okonkwo, a reputable Igbo tribe leader and wrestler. Okonkwo and his wives (the book exposes the polygamy model of the society) go through issues as mundane as farming problems and as serious as child loss. But as a family man and leader he also faces issues of warfare, treasury, morality, and cultural assimilation. An involuntary homicide leads to his exile from his village of Umuofia. During his time away, pale-faced men arrive and present a new lifestyle: Christianity. From then on things truly and irreparably start to fall apart. Is assimilating into an increasingly aggressive intruder’s new set of values worth living for?
Why should you read it?
The book is pocket-sized (under 200 pages) and symbolically important for telling one of many stories about Africa usually silenced. But it also is a tale on mental health and the repercussions of hyper-masculinity, and how assimilation can damage your sense of self in irrevocable ways. While this focuses on Igbo people, the continent has 1000+ languages, hundreds ethnic groups, cultures, and myriad social and economic models. Indeed, while Organic™ is now an obsession of the industrialised West, Things Fall Apart looks at Umuofia’s self-sustaining agrarian model. The novel gives a fresh take on colonialism, taking the viewpoint of the rebels over that of the oppressors.