At the beginning of summer, I had this grandiose idea of me reading as many books as possible. Then I thought "Ah! If I read these books then people will want to read what I think! I'll post literary reviews...yes. Brilliant. I can finish a book pretty quickly, so that's at least one book a week!"
It hasn't quite been that easy.
I've read a lot this summer. And despite being stuck on East of Eden for the past month, (it's brilliant, okay? I'm letting it...soak. Or something) I've been pretty consistent in finishing books quickly. So, all this to say one simple truth: it's been awhile since I've read Achebe's work, so don't hold me too accountable for what I remember.
I've been pretty interested in this book for some time. I've seen it on the shelves in our book room at school, but no class reads it. I know it's on the list for numerous students, so I figured it had to be important, and it dealt with something I've very passionate about: Africa. So, it didn't really take much convincing for me to go ahead & buy myself a copy.
There are two stories intertwined in this novel. First, you have the story of Okonkwo from the Ibo village in Nigeria. He's one of the strongest men in the tribe, and because his father was so emotional (something not seen as dignified or worth pride) Okonkwo has made an oath to himself to stick to his guns. To be firm, a man worthy of respect in his village. He gains it...until tragedy strikes & he is ushered out of the tribe for a year. The second story is one all too common when dealing with Africa in the British Colonization days. It speaks of the "white man with an iron horse" who comes to their village as a missionary. This clash in cultures obviously provides a thickening of plot outside of the simple narrative of Okonkwo & his situation.
For the most part, I enjoyed the book. It took nothing to finish - perhaps one or two nights at the most. It's very simple writing - as if you are sitting with Achebe & listening to him tell his family this story of a man fallen from grace & trying to gain back respect.
There was one part where I almost through the book down. The hatred & misinterpretation of the "savage Africans" disgusted me. One of the white men, the Commissioner is noted: "In many years in which he had toiled to bring civilization to different parts of Africa he had learned a number of things. One of them was that a District Commissioner must never attend to such undignified details as cutting a hanged man from the tree. Such attention would give the natives a poor opinion of him. In the book which he planned to write he would stress that point. As he walked back to the court he thought about that book. Every day brought him some new material. The story of this man who had killed a messenger & hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph at any rate...." and he goes on to mention the title of this book would be the Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.
I remember reading this & getting almost downright hostile at The Commissioner. How could he be so ignorant? How could he be so blind to the traditions of those he was "helping"? It sickened me, but I knew it was true. I knew Chinua Achebe wasn't writing entirely fiction at this point, because much of what happened in past missionary work mirrored this exact exchange. WE will go & save THEM. WE will go & civilize THEM. WE will go & change THEM....
it's all kind of sickening, really.
So, to be perfectly honest...the book was okay. Easy read, not necessarily riveting in the sense where I couldn't put it down, but...I will suggest it to others. And I will certainly suggest it to my students. Living in such a globalized society it's difficult to understand ignorance - but it does still exist. And even in commercials for popular theme parks you see the ever pervasive primitive Africa ride where "adventure & danger & cobras await you."
There's so much more to that continent.
So much more.