I love the slow burn of this. Putting aside its importance – isn’t it one of the first major novels by an actual African, if not the first? – I love how this unfolds: you have no idea the real crisis until well into the book. This is just begging for a movie adaptation. But anyway.
I apologize for any SPOILERS but I must at least hint at major plot points in order to explain why it’s great.
What begins as a story of a man who perhaps misunderstands his role in the traditional community – as he attempts to compensates for the perceived failings of father – and, as a result, does some things that cause him
to be formally exiled from that community, turns into a powerful, devastating story of the fully uncomprehended (by us) effects of colonialism on small communities in what is now Nigeria, and on one man in particular.
I found the early-going rather trying – I felt I understood the conflicts of Okonkwo well and I felt a little like the story wasn’t going anywhere. Sure, Okonkwo does some things that he wouldn’t have done if he weren’t trying to overcompensate for his father but, on the whole, I found this struggle not exceptionally well told compared to other contemporary literature. I suspect I persisted both due to my completist streak and perhaps deciding that, because this was written by an African, I should excuse what I perceived to be a lack of craft. Oops.
It is once the white man shows up where the real power of the novel shows through, and as it “rushes” to its
conclusion, we are possessed with dread about Okonkow’s destiny, and what I feared was so much less bad, so much more noble, than his true end.
That ending is one of the more devastating final chapters I have encountered in a novel.
- Author: Chinua Achebe
- Country: Nigeria
- Language: English
- Publisher: William Heinemann Ltd.
- Publication date: 1958