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Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)

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For all the bombast around this book as an anticolonialist work, I was surprised at how gently the subject is handled. The colonizers in the book have an air of other about them, but the book is telling one man's story, and thus the book has an air of the personal tragedy, as opposed to the systemic failure that was European colonialism. The result is a warm and inviting novel that also serves as a critique of colonialism. It may have the subject matter of Howard Zinn, but it has the tone and timbre of Rudyard Kipling. One wonders if this book would have been as positively received when it was published in 1958 if it had taken a more openly critical stance.

It's not hard to see the influence that this book has had, especially in white America's understanding of Africa. Much of the story is told in a style that heavily uses animals as characters in fables and metaphors for life. There's also a lot of touchstones of"Africa," particularly tribal organization, animist religion, and lots and lots of yams. These are the first things I remember learning about when I was introduced to "African" culture. Of course, Africa, being the gigantic place that it is, makes this kind of broad-brush characterization more than a bit silly. Nonetheless, for better or worse, these are key traits in the Western conceptualization of the continent, and it's not hard to trace some of this back to Things Fall Apart.

As a work outside of its criticism of colonialism, I was more interested in the wandering overall picture than the plot. Okonkwo is a distant and flawed character, and his motivations were never particularly compelling to me. As such, the storyline and book ended with a bit of a thud. However, the setting and overall feel of the book is quite good. There's a feeling of getting to know the culture in which this book is set, and a pervasive sense of everyday life that defies the linear plot. It's an intriguing and unique way of presenting the book, and quite appealing.

This post was crossposted from Goodreads. You can find the original at

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