by Chinua Achebe
I was about ten chapters into Things Fall Apart when it occurred to me. I was enjoying the book, but I felt like I was missing some serious points. The sparse writing had temporarily lulled me into skimming the surface. I hopped on Google and found myself a fabulous study guide that supplied questions to ponder as I continued reading and a resource website that explored Post-Colonial Literature from various parts of the world. Suddenly I was reading a book that went from "quaint" to "powerful".
On the off chance that it’s not completely obvious, I lack a college education in literature. While I often am tempted to remedy that, I am also acutely aware that years of required reading being laid out for me would probably not produce the desired effect, because, quite frankly, I want to read what I want to read when I want to read it. Therefore, I am doing my best to educate myself while indulging in my wide-ranging tastes. Hence, the occasional forays into the world of online study tools. In this case, I was extremely pleased that I did. I think that I would have picked up on more of the themes once I had gotten into the coming of the missionaries, but I’m not sure I would have fully appreciated the entire first section of the book where Achebe describes many of the intricacies of tribal life. I ended up becoming so engrossed that I immediately went out and purchased the two books about the main character’s descendants, Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease, which I plan on reading right away.
Ultimately, I had a hard time drumming up a lot of sympathy for Okonkwo, the main character. Even in the light of his own culture he was a jerk. But I did understand his feelings at the end. And I felt terrible for the Ibo people as their world began changing before their eyes. While the Ibo traditions look harsh and primitive to Western sensibilities, it worked for them and had beauty and nobility despite its flaws. While I have no desire to live in a tribal culture, I find myself envying certain aspects of a simpler life. And every time I read about things like this coming of the missionaries or the displacement of the Native Americans and the like, I always think to myself, “And what makes our way of life so much better? Why do we think we are so superior?” Granted, leaving babies out in the woods to die because of superstitious beliefs is abhorrent on every level, but why do we feel the need to wipe out every aspect of life that doesn’t look like ours? And as I sit in my mid-western suburban home pondering these questions, American troops sit in Iraq. I’m not getting political here. This is a book blog. I’m just saying there’s a lot to think about.
NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)
Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!