Review: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

things-fall-apartTHINGS FALL APART

By Chinua Achebe

(Anchor Books, 209 pages)

THIS was not my first reading of the book, but my third. I read Things Fall Apart for the first time in my teens, but I admit to only skimming then. The second time I read it was in 2014. For some reason, it was a hurried read and I did not retain much of the story.

Certainly, the first time I read it, I was a very silly girl who only read white authors. My Pinterest record of the books I read in 2014 has me completing the novel on 22nd Feb. Later that year I read other African authors like Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta. I believe that was the year I decided to make a big effort to read out of my comfort zone, i.e. more Asian and African authors. However, as it was early days, the part of my brain that handles reading was stuck in a rut. It still had to be kicked in the rear out of its literary ditch.

Three years on and I think I’ve succeeded in getting to a place where it’s not just stories by dead white women that make sense to me. And yes, my ‘problem’ with Things Fall Apart was that I couldn’t ‘make sense’ of it. The writing style, the content – including setting and characters – the language, nothing about it was what I was used to. Thus, I found it hard to relate to, or made no effort to try. Sure, I had read and loved Maru by Bessie Head twenty eight years before, but that was probably due to it being an A-level text, i.e. reading it maybe fifty times over, and discussing it with my tutor would have ensured that that story made complete sense.

chinua achebe
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013)

My partner, Don,  is Igbo, which is the ethnic group of the characters in Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe was also Igbo). I think this has made a difference to my recent reading of the book. This time round, the story seemed familiar. I recognised details from what Don has told me about Igbo cultural traditions. The way of life described was still strange, but it was easier to empathise with the characters and not completely dismiss their actions as outrageous or nonsensical.

It also helped being able to discuss the book with Don. He offered a different perspective and put things into a context I would have found it hard to imagine on my own.

The story is heartbreaking, on the level of it being the tale of a man’s downfall, and also in a larger historical and social context, as the story of the colonisation of Africa. The final sentence of the novel struck me to the core. It sums up the reality of the situation – in the novel, in history, and in race relations today.

Happy New Year!

I can’t believe how 2016 passed by so quickly. Well, actually, I can believe it because every year in the last twenty or so has gone by at top speed. My eldest son will be twenty years old this August – how did that happen?

In August I will probably (hopefully) be living in a different country, on a different continent. How exciting is that!

I am looking forward to my new life, despite all the horror stories I’ve read and heard. There are horror stories about every country and city in the world, aren’t there? I believe that all we can do is be reasonable and sensible, and as careful as possible without it becoming a chore and an obstacle. Anything else is chance, fate, destiny. All I know is that it would be silly to be deterred just because most Malaysians are clueless about Africa, and because Nigeria has a bad rep. Why focus on the negatives? The continent and the country has so much going for it, and I know I would hate Malaysia and Malaysians to be written off simply based on this country’s corrupt government, inefficient public facilities and stinky public toilets!

Anyway, I’ll have Don to advise me, and possibly a house with ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ emblazoned on its walls – how could I possibly pass up on that experience!

 

Review: I Do Not Come to You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

i-do-notWhen I first heard about this book (several years ago), I was interested to read it in order to understand the minds and the circumstances of those who choose to attempt to cheat total strangers.

I’ve never believed it to be a straightforward issue, i.e. that scammers are all evil bastards who deserve to burn in hell. I think people do things for reasons that only they can fully comprehend. Every single day, we all do a variety of things, make decisions, and react in ways that apply only to us as individuals – because each of us has different experiences and even if the experience is identical, two people will not react to it in exactly the same way. Walk a mile or two in soneone’s shoes before you judge their actions – that’s what I try to do (not always successfully).

I was added by a few scammers on Skype very recently (see this blog post for more on that) and the experience of dealing with them (I responded because I was curious about how they operate), led me to finally read I Do Not Come to You By Chance.Read More »

Review: Looking for Transwonderland by Noo Saro-Wiwa

I’m planning to move to Lagos in Nigeria sometime in the next year, and while I’ve read several works of fiction which have Lagos as a setting or partial-setting, I thought I would try to find some travelogues (the sort of travel lit written by the likes of Paul Theroux and Colin Thubron) about Nigeria/Lagos.

Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much out there in terms of modern (preferably 21st century) non-academic non-fiction. This list from The Guardian features five works of fiction (one of them set largely in New York city); a disdainful essay by Chinua Achebe; an account of the Biafran war, written by a British journalist; a personal memoir-cum-history of the country by another British journalist; Nigerian author and playwright, and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s memoir; and only one travel book, by  the daughter of the late Nigerian author and eco-activist (executed for his activism) Ken Saro-Wiwa.Read More »

Review: Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta

everything_good_will_comeWhen I finished reading this book, I wanted to read it all over again. I felt it opened a window wide and I couldn’t get enough of the scene it framed. I wanted to go back and pick over everything slowly, paying more attention to each detail, thinking about each situation, analysing each character.

I am planning to move to Lagos, where Sefi Atta‘s Everything Good Will Come is set. Sure, the book opens in 1971, one year after the end of the Biafran war, and ends in 1995. A lot has changed, since then. Or has it? In any case, I don’t think people change much. Skyscrapers may rise and roads may be built, but the old attitudes remain, by and large unexamined and unchallenged. This may sound pessimistic of me, but let’s just say that I don’t want to expect too much. I tell myself I should be prepared for sexism, corruption and hypocrisy. It’s very much present in the world anyway, and from what I have heard and read, rife in Nigeria. I should remember that Don (my fiance) is an exception, and not the rule.Read More »