The book “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe is an interesting book about a man Okonkwo and the trials that he endures. That is a gross oversimplification, but for the most part that is the general plot. I picked up this book with initial skepticism as to whether this book would be able to hold my interest or not. After reading it, I can say that the book does a good job and keeping me turning the pages. Overall, the book is interesting and the plot is certainly unique, but there are noticeable shortcomings.
As stated before the plot follows Okonkwo, a wealthy man living in Nigerian tribe, and the trails he faces as his life begins to crumble around him. He lives with his son Nwoye, who Okonkwo worries will end up as a failure like Okonkwo’s father Unoka. As the story progresses, Okonkwo receives a virgin and a boy from a neighboring tribe, and raised the boy even though he showed the child little affection. Important events happen that I will not spoil, as it is major to the story, and Okonkwo falls into a depression, and later ends up banished. While in his banishment, he meets a group of missionaries lead by a Mr. Brown. Although Brown was sent to convert the natives to Christianity, he does his best not to upset the clan. However, as Mr. Brown falls ill, James Smith, who has no problem insulting and upsetting the native people, replaces him. After provoking natives enough that they burn his church down and performing other acts of injustice, that are again crucial story elements, Okonkwo attempts to rally his clansmen to follow him against these missionaries. His clansmen refuse and Okonkwo leaves. There is more but the ending is best read and experienced without knowledge of what happens.
The characters are engaging and interesting throughout the story and it is always interesting to see them develop and act in relation to each other. Okonkwo is a character who the reader watches deteriorate, as his world crumbles around him, and the reader both pities him and understands why he may deserve some of these things. That is one of the most interesting parts of the story, but the characters do still have problems. There were times when the lines between which character was which blurred while I was reading. Maybe it was because my westernized brain had trouble processing some of the names, but the characters often mixed in my head while reading and confused me when something happened to a character I thought had left the tribe a dozen pages ago. Minor complaints aside, the characters are interesting to watch develop and engaging to see in action throughout the book and all of them feel human to the reader. Odd choice of wording I know, but oftentimes characters in books act almost mechanically, exactly how you expect them to act without variation. The characters here act organically, oftentimes taking actions that were unexpected or different, adding to the overall immersion and quality of the text.
This books is good, there is no denying that. However, it does suffer from some problems. Sometimes the pacing feels slow and there are long lapses between major plot points that do little to advance the plot. These lapses do serve a purpose though: character development. Whether to show a character’s experience and skill or to show a character’s thoughts these lapses do volumes to show the characters to the readers. That is what this book feels like it does best to me: show its characters. This is a story about a man’s life, and how no matter who you may be or how wealthy and powerful you are, everything can fall apart.
Book Review by Anthony Zhu