Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

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Things Fall Apart (Pocket Penguin Classics)

Five words from the blurb: masterpiece, strong, man, African, awareness

Things Fall Apart has been on my book shelf for a very long time. I knew it was an important book, but it intimidated me and so I avoided reading it. I imagined it to be a complex, disturbing read and so was surprised to discover its fast pace and simplicity.

The book shows how a small African village is affected by the arrival of missionaries from Europe. We see events from the perspective of Okonkwo, a man famed for his strength, but plagued by difficulties beyond his control. His flawed character was fascinating to read about as although I didn’t warm to him I felt great sympathy for his situation.

I also loved the insight into Nigerian tribal life and now feel I have a better understanding of their culture. Achebe did a fantastic job of portraying both the English and African people in a straight-forward, non-judgemental way; allowing the reader to form their own opinion of who was in the wrong.

“The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

The ending was especially poignant and I think this is one of those books that will grow on me over time. I can see why it has become a classic and I hope that people will continue to read this book for many years to come.


I read this book for Amy’s Nigerian Independence Day Reading Project. Head over there to see many more Nigerian book recommendations.

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  1. Sandy says:

    You know it is almost always like that! The longer a book sits and ages (and intimidates me) on the shelf, the better it is when I finally get to it. I am not blaming you, it would have intimidated me too.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I have so many classics sitting on my shelf. I’m sure I’ll get to them all at some point, but some of them are very intimidating. I’m sure most of them are worth the effort. I have to stop being scared of them :-)

  2. I’ve recently started to work with Africa and will need to visit some countries in the coming 2 years, so I’ve been looking for good recommendations. This one has come up several times, including in conversations with African people (not Nigerian). They called it “very realistic”.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, Africa is a fantastic place to visit! I hope that you enjoy your time there and actually get to see a bit of countryside as well as working. Hopefully you’ll be able to let us know which African books we should try as I’m sure you’ll come across a far wider range than I will. :-)

  3. Brenna says:

    This one is heartbreaking but important to read at some point. I read this one twice – once in school and again on my own. I liked it more after I read it a second time, probably because it was on my own terms. I’m glad you enjoyed – it’s definitely an important book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Breena, I think books are normally more enjoyable when you read them on your own terms and don’t feel the pressure of studying them. I’m really pleased I don’t have to write an essay on this one :-)

  4. Stephanie says:

    I had to read this one in school and I was surprised that I loved it as much as I did. I have meant to read more from this author since but just never have.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, I’ll certainly be seeking out more of Achebe’s books now. Hopefully they’ll be as good as this one.

  5. I’m so glad to see someone reading this as I think it’s a really good book! I read it ages ago and we used to have students read it in sophomore English (World Lit for us), but they find it difficult so the English teachers tend to avoid it. A real shame since it gave some “color” to the World Lit curriculum

    1. Jackie says:

      Helen, It is sad to hear that the teachers are avoiding it. It has a few African words in, but I’d have thought they’d be able to cope with those. I hope they decide to put it back on the curriculum as I think the students would learn a lot from it.

  6. Jenners says:

    I’ve feared this book for the same reason. I shall not fear it anymore!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Yay! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  7. Tony says:

    Another book I should have read a long time ago – in fact, Africa is very much still uncharted territory for me and my reading list :( Glad you enjoyed it :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Tony, I have a long list of books I should have read a long time ago :-( I hope you manage to add a few African books to your reading soon.

  8. Leela Soma says:

    Hi Jackie

    I have Achebe’s ‘A Man of the People’ a humorous but scathing attack on a nameless corrupt African country. His writing is compelling. Thanks for your review, need to look this book out.

    1. Jackie says:

      Leela, I’ll be ensuring I add more of his books to my TBR pile now. I’m hoping they are just as good as this one :-)

  9. Annabel says:

    Funnily enough, my neighbour brought this book around for me to read just yesterday! We’re reading Half of a Yellow Sun in our book group next month, and she said I should read this one too as it influenced Adichie. Am hugely reassured by your review that I will enjoy it and find it thought-provoking.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I looks as though forces are aligning for you to read this one! I can see similarities with Adichie’s work, but am not sure that isn’t just because they come from the same country? Either way I’m sure you’ll appreciate this one – enjoy!

  10. parrish says:

    Have seen this book mentioned before & it does appeal, so will search it out, I’ve just recently finished a book set in Ghana which I really like – Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes, who’s also a fine poet.

    1. Jackie says:

      parrish, I haven’t heard of Tail of the Blue Bird, but I’m always looking for more good African books so I’ll see if I can find a copy. Thanks for the recommendation!

  11. Steph says:

    I have also read tons of great things about this book, but have avoided reading it, even though I own a copy and everything. I have no idea why I’m so scared of this book… it’s not even very long! I know it’s a cornerstone of African literature, and I really do want to read more African fiction, so I really should read it sooner rather than later! Your review has definitely inspired me to cautiously bump it up the TBR pile!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I thought it might be one of those short books that actually takes a long time to read, but that isn’t the case – it is a quick read. I’m sure you’ll love it. Enjoy!

  12. Kailana says:

    I really want to read this! Good review!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kailana, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  13. mee says:

    I have this on my shelf and hope to get to it this year. It doesn’t really intimidate me, as I flicked it a couple of times and the language seems easy to read. I’m surprised it intimidated you (or anyone!) :)

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, I have no idea why it intimidated me. If I had bothered to flick through it then I’d have seen how easy it was to read, but instead I just let it sit on my shelf, next to its study guide. It is weird how I build up these preconceptions, but I’ll try to avoid doing so in future.

  14. I’ve not read any Achebe, although I’ve read all of Adichie (well, there are only three books). Considering I just finished The Thing Around Your Neck yesterday, I reckon it’s time to start with Achebe – an author that has eluded me thus far, for no real rhyme or reason. This sounds really good, and I look forward to reading it.

    Thanks for the review.

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I’ve read all of Adichie too :-) I suspect that Achebe is far better. It is a shame he has eluded us for this long, but at least we can change that now. I hope you enjoy Things Fall Apart as much as I did.

  15. This is one of those books that have sat on my shelf unread far too long. Your review makes me want to move it up the pile.

    Jackie, Thank you so much for your kindness with the loss of our Libby – much appreciated.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I hope you decide to read this book and enjoy it as much as I did. :-)

  16. Kinna says:

    When you have the time and are so inclined, you should read Achebe’s Arrow of God. I think it’s even better than Things Fall Apart. Achebe’s style is really not intimidating. He just has a larger then life reputation in the field of African literature.

    1. Jackie says:

      Kinna, Thanks for letting me know that Arrow of God is even better. I’m not intimidated by him any more and look forward to enjoying all his wonderful books :-)

      1. I’ve got both of these on my list (thanks to Kinna’s nudging on this particular title, too), so I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed TFA, Jackie. For many years, this was the only African title I had on my shelves, but I’ve managed to collect quite a few since. Although of course I collect faster than I read. And, ironically, I’ve read many of those gathered more recently, whereas TFA still sits. Must remedy that!

  17. Jeanne says:

    I really hated reading this novel because I hated the main character so much. But I also sympathized with him, by the end. I like having read this book. I’ve taught it, and it’s interesting to teach a novel you don’t love. It makes you take a different approach, which can be good. It certainly frees the students to write about the novel differently, with less fear and obligation to venerate.


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