Chinua Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), was an early and spectacular part of the flowering of West African literature after independence from colonial rule. It seemed, perhaps especially to a South African like me living under increasingly draconian controls, a wonderful illustration of what liberation might mean. Now, I suspect, it is one of those books which almost everyone knows about but very few people other than students actually read.
I am a reader, not a collector: the few rarities I have been given or have gathered are mainly scattered in the bookshelves, along with tattered paperbacks and rejects from libraries. However, one small batch of beautifully hand-set and hand-printed slim volumes sits safely protected from dust, moths and grandchildren in a glass-fronted bookcase; they are some of the books and pamphlets published in Nigeria, mainly by the Mbari Press at Ibadan University, in the late 1950s and early ’60s: Wole Soyinka’s Three Plays; John Pepper Clark’s Song of a Goat (a play) and his Poems; Lenrie Peters’s Poems; Christopher Okigbo’s Heavensgate; George Awoonor Williams’s Rediscovery and Other Poems; and others. What high hopes we had then, before the Biafran War, the tribal conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi, the civil war in the Congo, and the hollowing-out of Zimbabwe. Even so, some of us have not yet succumbed to ‘Afropessimism’ but hope that the example of South Africa in preferring forgiveness to retribution may yet herald an African Renaissance.
So I came back to the self-imposed task of rereading Things Fall Apart with a degree of trepidation. Would it seem dated? Partial in its desire ‘to set the colonial record straight’? Sentimental about precolonial history? In Morning yet on Creation Day, his book of critical essays (1975), Achebe had written that he would be ‘quite satisfied if my novels (especi
The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.Subscribe now or Sign in