Summary: Proud clansman Okonkwo has built himself up from nothing. His exile for an accidental murder and the arrival of the white man throw his world into disorder.
This has been on reading lists since I was 9 so it’s about time I got around to reading it! It reads very much like a school set text – clear moral teachings on colonialism, pride, treatment of others, community etc. At first, the text felt quite minimalist – only the essentials of each episode were told in order to move the story along, but as we progressed to Okonkwo’s adulthood, more anecdotal episodes were thrown in, which was a pleasant development.
Similarly, only the main characters were given any time at all, but those which were developed were drawn skilfully, almost all through deeds rather than words. Every now and again there is a monologue from an older clansman, but these are well-spaced enough so as not to become tedious.
I enjoyed reading about all the customs and the beliefs etc – the book describes a fictional tribe, but Achebe presumably drew his inspiration from real-life practices. I was starting to wonder at the halfway point when things were going to fall apart, although it had been a very comfortable and entertaining read up to that point – but I did not see the major plot turns coming up! And things duly did fall apart…
While I recognise that it is a well-written text, morally clear and presumably “before its time” in terms of “colonialism bad, missionaries bad, indigenous traditions and ideas not all bad”, either I’ve missed something or the simple style has garnered a lot more critical acclaim than it deserves. I’m inclined to think the former.
Interview with the author: The New York Times