This book was published in 1958 and was described as one of the first African novels written in English to achieve critical acclaim. So my first question to all is why did it take so long for there to be a good African book? After all, didn’t people evolve in Africa? They’ve been there for a good long time. People were writing books long before 1958 in other parts of the world. Hmmm.
This book is a story about tribal life in Africa at about the time that European missionaries were starting to make their lives miserable. It is centered around Okonkwo, a strong hardworking powerful man who descended from a weak lazy father. Because his father was such a wimp, Okonkwo thought that he had to be extra tough and hard-working. He became very successful, but his short temper got him in a lot of trouble and eventually ended his life.
This is a very interesting book because it describes a lot about the tribal life in Africa. Similar to stories about American Indians, it was written long after the Europeans came in and changed everything. It may or may not be an accurate representation of tribal life prior to European colonization. Given that it’s one man’s interpretation of one tribe in Nigeria, it’s unlikely that it really represents tribal life as a whole, although it certainly describes some of the peculiarities of tribal Africa.
For instance, this tribe had a strong religion full of all the usual religious ideas to help deal with the world as they knew it. Having twins was considered taboo and when born they were left to die in the “evil forest”. A little on-line research shows that this taboo and others were peculiar to this tribe, but not to other tribes which held twins in high esteem.
This book had a lot of interesting religious information, especially when compared to the religion of the missionaries. Many of the tribesman liked the new religion because it fit in better with their own thoughts and feelings. For instance, not everyone thought it was a great idea to leave twins to die in the forest. Others didn’t like the missionaries because they brought a lot of change that eventually caused trouble for the village.
There were also a lot of interesting aspects of tribal life. Their main food was yams and growing a large crop of them was very important to show how strong and capable a man was. The better the farm, the more wives he could have. Palm-wine was drunk almost daily. They would tap the palms and make a wine out of the sap. I’ve never heard of maple syrup wine but I suppose it would be similar. Of course, maple syrup is so good on pancakes that I would hate to use up any for wine. Their living quarters were simple and had to be re-thatched every year after the harvest. They really lived close to the land.
The men pretty much ran everything, but they also worked hard to support the family. A young man had to be successful and provide a nice dowry to the family of a girl for him to have her as a wife.
The title of the book describes the falling apart of Okonkwo as well as the falling apart of African tribal life when the European missionaries moved in. This book was interesting in a lot of respects. It’s a good story about Okonkwo, his life and his family. It relates a lot about tribal life, including daily life, religious life and customs. It also goes into that phase in history when the Europeans first started colonizing Africa.
Next month we’re going to read another book about Africa … “Little Bee” … which has something to do with life in Nigeria. Stay tuned!