"He trembled with the desire to conquer and subdue. It was like the desire for women."
I bought Things Fall Apart a long time ago (this falls into the category of things I say all the time, but hey, at least I'm reading them!) but I distinctly remember that I bought it based purely on the fact that I liked the title. It's to the point and pretty clear, and I just liked it. Which is obviously why I let it languish on my shelves for years and years, and basically didn't consider reading it ever in that time. I'm smart like that.
So, I finally read it thanks to the Back To The Classics Challenge! *Waits for applause, awkwardly moves on when there is none when there is none because the internet doesn't really work that way* And... Well. It didn't exactly set my world on fire, but I did like it. Above all I liked that it was equally fair, or equally unfair to everyone, but I had some issues with not being massively interested in any of the characters or anything that was going on. Allow me to elaborate.
The basic story of Things Fall Apart is that of Okonkwo, a well respected member of an African tribe, who also happens to beat his wives and has an overall lack of respect for women. Like everyone in the book. Including the women. Which doesn't really have that much to do with the plot, so I'll move on from it. FOR A MINUTE. So, things happen, and then Okokwo gets exiled, and then, when he returns things fall apart. Which is really bad, obviously. (This is basically a plot outline for the whole book, which you might consider a spoiler, but I do not because it was all in the blurb on my copy. And it's not really a book that you can spoil like this, in my opinion.)
What I really liked about this book was the way that no one, and no one's way of life was seen as wholly good or wholly bad. Honestly, I was expecting it to be like 'the evil white men came and killed people and forced their views on the rest' (and I wouldn't have been wholly opposed to that view) but it was definitely a lot more balanced than that. Which was good, because I was decidedly uncomfortable about the amount of violence, and the treatment of women in the tribe culture, but I also felt uncomfortable like denouncing it in my brain because it's like being a colonial overlord and forcing my culture on another, you know? But it was ok, because the book was critical of this, so I could be too. There's no idealism about the tribe way of life, and nothing to suggest that it's a perfect culture that is irreplaceable. And nor is the new one.
So all of that was good. Especially not feeling like a colonial overlord, because that is something that I just HATE! But. I feel like this book is basically all symbols and colonialism and tradition vs new ideas, and while it's all very interesting and if I'd read it for some kind of official purpose (you know, school and stuff) I'd have had loads to say about it and been really impressed. And I am still impressed, but also... I'm not at school anymore. And being kept at an arms length from the characters, and having only the bare bones of a plot for the sake of many many symbolic things is not something that necessarily floats my boat in an 'inspiring deep love for a book' kind of way. Impressive? Sure. Love? Not so much.
On the whole, though, I'm definitely glad I read this because, like I say, it's very interesting and symbolic and all, but also I don't feel any great urge to read it again. It is, however, a relatively quick read, and feels quite enriching compared to the amount of effort you have to put into it. So, on a cost-profit analysis (is that even a thing?!) it's definitely worth a read.
"So all of that was good. Especially not feeling like a colonial overlord" - hahaha I know serious book and whatnot but I love thisReplyDelete
I really hate that colonial overlord feeling Alley! Hate it!!Delete
That's gotta be awkward, with the living in England and being English and having English colonial guilt and stuff. Like when I watch Dances With Wolves and they show the Cavalry shooting the Indians and I lie on my couch crying "WE'RE SORRYYYYYY"ReplyDelete
Plus, you know, slavery and stuff? Although... We probably did that first. UGH so much white guilt. Stupid white people in the past being all lazy and evil...Delete
I read this for a postcolonial literature course along with Heart of Darkness and then we shouted at each other for an hour about how colonialism was BAD AND STUFF! But I can see what you're saying, I definitely think if I'd read it just on my own I wouldn't have felt as...shouty about it as I did for Uni. It's still on my shelf, but I've not read it since and that's been... four years (God I'm old!) so I'm probably not going to read it again, to be honest...ReplyDelete
Ohhh, I definitely could have gotten shouty about this for Uni! Although I would have slightly been more like 'yeah, but was the culture they were eradicating all that great to start with though? WAS IT?!' because this book sort of made me think that, even though I'm all about like THE EMPIRE WAS EVIL, I FUCKING HATE ENGLAND etc etc. So that was an interesting and unexpected thing I got from Things Fall Apart!Delete
I felt like it kept us at arms length on purpose, so that we would be more conflicted with the white people did come in, because I did feel like it was saying that the white people were wrong in this case, that while we may not agreed with or understand their customs, that gives us no right to go try to change them. We can all be barbarians, you know?ReplyDelete
I actually hated this book for the first two thirds of it, but in the last third, it all turned around, and it ended up being one of my favorite books of a few years ago. It's not one I'd want to read again, though.
I was definitely a bit like 'this is creeeeeping along' in the first two sections, and in the last one I was more like 'hmm... this gives me things to think about...' which was great!Delete
Oh my goodness, I read this so long ago... could it be 15 years? Yikes. But anyway, it was when I was in college. Anthropology Major. And most of my professors were Archaeologists studying Sub-Saharan Africa. So I definitely remember the idea being drilled in my head that The Colonists suck and to Respect the Indigenous Culture, etc. etc. So while I don't remember the finer points, I feel like I've retained the overall message? Does that sound right? -SarahReplyDelete
Definitely 'The Colonists suck and Respect the Indigenous culture', just, you know, in LIFE, but I definitely think this book is sliightly more subtle than that, in that it's sort of like 'this is being disrespectful of an indigenous culture, but ALSO should we just accept that culture *because* it's indigenous, even if it's not so nice, and then ALSO everyone has to adapt to changes or die. It's really complex! And I've just realised that I kind of enjoy discussing it more than I did reading it, which is pretty interesting...Delete
I studied this book for months for my A level and somehow did not end up hating it, though admittedly I did then leave it at my Dad's house and not pick it up again since, but I suspect I will one day. It'll be fun to see which bits 17-year-old me underlined or annotated!ReplyDelete
I read this review a few days ago and it stuck with me. I've never actually seen a cover for this book. Now that I see the character's face, I'm intrigued to read this one, soon. I do love seeing the person in books. :)ReplyDelete
I liked Things Fall Apart because it asks the question: what makes a person good or bad? Okonkwo certainly has a lot of bad qualities (by our standards) but is he a bad person? What drove his decisions? Were his motivations at fault? I'll have to re-read the book sometime so I can answer these questions for myself. :)ReplyDelete