Things fall apart is a modern Nigerian classic. It
centers on Okonkwo, he is a strong man in his Ibo village. The story traces
Okonkwo’s fall from grace and his attempt to return. It also tells a second
intertwined story about missionaries coming to Nigeria. They proselytize and
they build churches and they refuse the locals their own practices. They don’t
seem to understand that Okonkwo’s people have procedures around birth, childlessness
and rights and courts and they start abolishing these things. They slaughter an
entire village and they also manage to lure Okonkwo’s son to join the church.
The language is so spare and brutal and there is nothing
that shouldn’t be there, everything is carefully thought out, no word left
behind. Anyway, it really helps the story I think, because Okonkwo is also very
spare and brutal and he works well in that language.
It’s fascinating to read about Okonkwo, because so much
of his identity is tied up in his masculinity and his strength and ability to
provide for himself and his family. His father was a lout who owed people
money, couldn’t afford having more than one wife and was a constant
disappointment to his son. So to make up for it, I guess, Okonkwo decides he
will be a strong man, have lots of wives, and provide for his family. He has
huge yam fields and he has three wives. He also lets the worst parts of that
masculinity come out in that he is abusive to his children and wives. He is
deeply disappointed in his oldest son who is soft and kind and not hard and
strong. Okonkwo keeps insisting on proving his masculinity in every way, and it
starts feeling desperate, he doesn’t dare ever seem weak because people will
think he is like his father. He’s so trapped and it’s so sad and desperate.
It was fascinating to read a missionary story from the
perspective of the locals. I don’t think I’ve read that before. It was
interesting to see how they viewed these people who came to them and tried to
understand their weird ways. It’s always fun to see your own culture and
context seem like the confusing and wrong way to do things. At least I think
that’s fun, but I’m an anthropology nerd, so what do I know.
I really liked it, I liked the writing and language. I
found Okonkwo fascinating. I really want to read the other books in the
trilogy. It’s so beautiful.