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Book 28 Completed

May 12, 2010

I carried Things Fall Apart around me for five days and it certainly got a lot of attention. Three distinct people told me, “Well, it’s either a love it or hate it kind of book.”

This book ends up on high school reading lists all over the country (world?) and as with most books read with a teacher providing you with insight and analysis, you find yourself buying into the hype or utterly bored. (My students will be the first to tell you there is very little middle ground).

Also, what I’ve heard from a lot of people who have loved the book was that this was their first real introduction to African literature — it is arguably the most well-known and well-read piece of African literature. And I think if this book is your introduction to African literature, then there is something special about discovering this new world for the first time.

The haters? Well, they are more impassioned and tend to mention detest for the main character, boredom with the basics of the plot (or lack of plot), and an inability to navigate the sparse language.

Fair enough.

So, where am I on this spectrum?

I am sitting rather comfortably over here at Camp Indifference. 

First of all, I didn’t love this book — and maybe I would have loved it if it were accompanied by stimulating conversations in an academic setting. I’m not going to sit down and analyze Okonkwo or discuss if it is okay for white men to come and uproot thousands of years of tradition simply because that culture seems so barbaric. Really, I’d love to be in a college classroom having the conversation where someone says, “White men coming and eradicating culture was evil!” And then someone else will pop up with, “Hmmmm. Even the part about throwing all twin babies into pots and tossing them in the forest to die of starvation?” (I know…that part is devastating! And the conversations about the changeling children are equally sad and eye-opening.) 

There are interesting components of this book and they are worth reading about, talking about, and exploring. I enjoyed the cultural references, I appreciated how honest this book felt. It’s a sincere story; Achebe captures a lot in this small book. But…

I didn’t really become engaged with anything until page 50, which is a quarter of the way into the story. By that time, I knew I wasn’t going to love the book. There isn’t a story to grab on to in the traditional sense — but the book’s tone and cadence was similar to several of the other books from West Africa, and I found a nice rhythm while reading. There were a few parables told by one of Okonkwo’s wives that resonated with me too. The real energy picked up toward the end. By then I was already pushing through for the sake of finishing and not out of a compulsion to find out what happens next. 

And none of that was able to elevate this book to a point where I felt like I could hop on over to the “love” group. And I found enough importance and interest to stay out of the “hate” group. 

So, there you have it! Nigeria done. Things Fall Apart a modest success.

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