Things Fall Apart: Introduction

You can find a more detailed overview of the book and biography at LitLovers, but I thought these comments from the discussion guide published by Random House would be a good, concise introduction to the book.

Biography of Chinua Acebe (from Books@Random)

Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He was raised in the large village of Ogidi, one of the first centers of Anglican missionary work in Eastern Nigeria, and is a graduate of University College, Ibadan.

His early career in radio ended abruptly in 1966, when he left his post as Director of External Broadcasting in Nigeria during the national upheaval that led to the Biafran War. He was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and began lecturing widely abroad.

From 1972 to 1976, and again in 1987 to 1988, Mr. Achebe was a Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and also for one year at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Cited in the London Sunday Times as one of the 1,000 “Makers of the Twentieth Century,” for defining “a modern African literature that was truly African” and thereby making “a major contribution to world literature,” Mr. Achebe has published novels, short stories, essays, and children’s books. His volume of poetry, Christmas in Biafra, written during the Biafran War, was the joint winner of the first Commonwealth Poetry Prize. His novel Arrow of God was winner of the New Statesman-Jock Campbell Award, and Anthills of the Savannah was a finalist for the 1987 Booker Prize in England.

Often mentioned as a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Mr. Achebe holds an Honorary Fellowship of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, as well as more than twenty honorary doctorates from universities in England, Scotland, the U.S., Canada, and Nigeria. He is also the recipient of Nigeria’s highest award for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Merit Award.

About the book (from Books@Random)

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe’s first novel, was published in 1958. Worldwide, there are eight million copies in print in fifty different languages. This stunning work, which John Updike calls “a great book, that bespeaks a great, brave, kind human spirit,” is often compared to the great Greek tragedies. It concerns itself with the classic struggle between rigid traditionalism and the winds of change. Specifically, it is about the effects of British colonialism on a small Nigerian village at the turn of the century. A simple story of a “strong man” whose life is dominated by fear and anger, it is written with remarkable economy and subtle irony. Uniquely and richly African, at the same time it reveals Achebe’s keen awareness of the human qualities common to men of all times and places.

Discussion Questions

  1. What books have you read that are by African authors or that are set in Africa?
  2. What did you like/dislike about the book(s) by African authors?
  3. What are you anticipating about this book?
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5 thoughts on “Things Fall Apart: Introduction

  1. 1. The Poisonwood Bible, The #1 Ladies Detective Agency, Cry the Beloved Country, and A Long Walk to Water. My favorite out of these stories was the last one; I have a review of it on my blog if you’re interested.

    2. I liked that the settings and customs are different from what I’m used to, so I was learning while I was reading, even if I was reading a “for fun” book. I didn’t like that the settings and customs are different from what I’m used to, because sometimes I didn’t understand the significance of certain words or actions or the way the story was told either confused me or bored me.

    3. I’m guessing that, like the other African novels I’ve read, it will take me a while to figure out what the plot is and where the story is supposed to be going. I’m hoping that I enjoy the story, because getting excited about a book and then having your excitement crushed into boredom is one of the saddest things I know (if you don’t believe me, try reading Great Expectations. Epic failure in the fulfilling expectations department). I’m also looking forward to jumping inside the head of a person who likely looks at the world very differently from the way I see it. :o)

  2. 1. I’ve read all of the books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and enjoy them all! I’ve also read Cry, The Beloved Country numerous times. (I’ll actually reread it soon because I’m teaching it starting this week and this is one book I read each time I teach it.)

    2. I love the musicality of the language and even enjoy the slower paced stories, which I know bothers some people. I like learning about another culture through fiction.

    3. I’m really looking forward to this book, since it came so highly recommended and I’ve read rave reviews of it. From the little bit I’ve learned so far, I expect that the story will be very sad, but beautifully and memorably told.

  3. These questions are so good, Natalie, and have me grabbing at memories

    1 .The Nun’s Story, the book, not the movie. I remember it’s essence, but not the details. I think I was about 14 or 15 when I read it. It made me want to be devoted to God and life and was an initial introduction to ambiguity and doubt.

    Books about Sweitzer, who I still adore and who also made me want to grow beyond my limits. Also read around 15, so more than 50 years ago .
    2 . The books together left me journeying toward nursing and wanting to be a missionary in foreign lands. I never journeyed to foreign lands to work, but I think I have kept the reverence for life. The books made me see beyond my small world.

    3 . I am looking forward to this book. I have already been surprised by it’s date of publication and I think I remember some discussions about Achebe from the 70s.

  4. 1. Cry, The Beloved Country and a couple of books from the No 1 Ladies Detective series are the only books from Africa that I recall reading.
    2. There was something about the language and flow of all the books which I enjoyed (In talking with Natalie she described the language as “musical”). And it was fun to learn of another culture in a pleasant way.
    3. I am expecting this book to shed more light on the struggles of South Africans to deal with change. I know that there is much to learn about cultures that change from rural to urban and it’s effect on family heritage, traditions and expectations for the future.

  5. So, I am finally answering my own discussion questions. I probably didn’t pick a very good time to start a book club, given how busy my schedule was last semester. Anyway, here goes.

    1. I have read Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (I read another book by him too, but I can’t remember the name right now). I have also read almost all of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series by Alexander McCall Smith and The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

    2. Usually these stories are slower-paced and often wind about in the telling of the story. I like the musical nature of Paton’s book and anticipate that Achebe’s style will be similar, since they are both African born and wrote around the same time period.

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