In college, I took a class by Okey Ndibe on Memory and History in African Literature. A fascinating Nigerian author and activist himself, Okey pushed my boundaries as both an English major and world reader. Books that weren’t on my radar before became important to me and my way of thinking about the world, and our history. He wrote Arrows of Rain, which we read in class, another great read I recommend. He also introduced me to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Yesterday, I learned of Achebe’s passing. It was saddening and shocking; I’d come to love Things Fall Apart in that class and ever after. It was an iconic book of Achebe’s, a political activist and passionate author. In meThings Fall Apartmory of him, I’ve copied below the reading journal I completed for that class on the book. If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it, as well as his other works.

Journal

I was fascinated by Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The story kept me engaged every moment. I loved the culture and traditions so different from my own and from European – I often feel that American and European culture is dull, probably because I’ve been learning about it since I was three. Achebe gives the reader a snapshot into the African world without over-explaining and without the air of “you should already know about this.” It is the perfect amount of description and allowing the reader to see things for themselves.

I never once used the glossary in the back; I never had to. Context provided everything I needed to know, and allowing me to get the approximate definitions of the Ibo words myself meant a lot to me. Achebe trusts his readers, and in turn I think that we trust him. One interesting style I noticed was that in the second that a big event started to draw to a close, Achebe moved ahead of it in time and began again as if it was done and dealt with. The first time it happened, I was a bit surprised, but it made a lot of sense after that. He doesn’t waste words closing something when it’s practically over.

I had a great surprise in the beginning of Chapter 6 when the word “slave” showed up: “The elders and grandees of the village sat on their own stools brought there by their young sons or slaves” (46). In class we then talked about how different cultures had slavery, but that the New World/United States form of it was harsher than others. I was still very much surprised to find the word at all in the novel, particularly before there was even any mention of European influence. I tried to look it up, and only found that it was likely that Ikemefuna was a slave, though it was hard to tell because Okonkwo treated him so like another son. I am curious about the Ibo form of slavery and what it was like, how it was looked upon.

While some of the traditions the Ibo people held were strange and even against some of my own ideas, I respected them. They were clearly such a vital and personal part of the clan, and I’ve always been fascinated by other traditions so different from the ones I know. I think traditions are important in some ways, though dangerous in others. I believe in freedom of religion, and if some traditions are harmless but only serve to enrich the unity of a group of people, or even of an individual, they are important to keep. Certain traditions, like that of slavery or women not voting, are not.

Throughout my reading I kept going back to the title, thinking “life’s not perfect, but what’s falling apart?” The shock of the European arrival was then as much of a surprise to me as it was to the clans. In a very short amount of time, Okonkwo is exiled and the European missionaries start to push their way into the Ibo. And, very quickly, things fall apart: everything horribly fell into place, and I felt some of the anger that the clansmen felt at this forcing of religion, telling them that everything they believed in and lived was a lie that would not grant them a good eternal life after death. It was shocking, and I was surprised, actually, that the novel ended before the slave trade officially began, though knowing that it was to come sent chills down my spine – that the horror forced upon these people was not yet over, and would not be.

I am really looking forward to discussing this amazing story – it was an amazing read.

Rest In Peace, Chinua Achebe. You were more of an inspiration than you ever had the chance to know.

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