Written in 1959 by a native Nigerian, Things Fall Apart was maybe the first really non-Western novel that I ever read, during my first quarter at Stanford. I was completely blown away by the book then, and wanted to re-read it now to see what I thought (I’ve also been reading some histories of Africa lately that I need to post about, so am interested in other points of view).
The title is taken from a poem called “The Second Coming”, by W.B. Yeats — an incredibly powerful poem — here are the lines from it that are quoted at the beginning of the book:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The narrative tells the story of Okonkwo — a leader among his tribe and the surrounding towns. As the book starts, Okonkwo thinks a lot about how much better he’s become than his father was — how much richer, how much stronger, and how much more respected. Given the title, you can probably imagine how it goes from there.
I was struck reading this book that it really tells two stories: one that’s really about Africans and the introduction of outsiders, colonizers, and new technologies, but another that’s more universal about how hard it is to hang on to the past and fight against change. And whether it’s worth it or not.
Anyway, I like this novel now as much as I did when I read it 16 years ago — very glad to have gone back to it. It’s such a simple story but really very powerful.