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Things fall apart

This week I've been reading, amongst other things, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. It is a surprising novel. I am reading it for my MA (Reading the Nation) in which questions of nationalism and post-colonialism inform the literature discussed. It is apt then that Achebe took the title from a line in a WB Yeats poem, The Second Calling. Yeats, being the Celtic revivalist and nationalist tjat he was, is also under the microscope. However, back to Achebe. This, his first novel, written in the mid-fifties has literally sold tens of millions of copies since. Yet, whilst on one hand it feels like a folktale in its simplicity, on the other it is like being dropped into a network of Nigerian villages without a guide. Achebe uses Igbo (silent g) words and refers to Igbo culture yet never steps aside to explain anything. You either get in there with the characters and their world or you don't. The incredible richness of the culture is a joy; yet the stern patriarchy is not. But that is not a criticism of Igbo, but of most cultures fifty to a hundred years ago. Men beat women quite frequently because they could. It was their rule and in terms of humanity it was not just cruel, it was backward. Things Fall Apart says so much about male/female gender roles and how learned much of the characteristics are. It is, of course, about destructive colonial power. Yet, reading about Achebe's life, without the privileged education he received, encouraged by his Christian Anglophile father, he may never have been able to write the book. It calls up the strong feelings that Achebe had to reclaim the heritage that the previous generation had seem to give up all too easily in favour of the white man's ways. There must be a lot in this reclaiming by the children of immigrant parents, which in Achebe's case didn't mean physical immigration. We see it now in the western world; British born Muslims feeling that they need to reclaim a culture that many of their parents actually sometimes wanted to get away from. My dad was Irish 'through and through' and, despite leaving his West Ireland home for England, he remained loyal in many ways; he still read Irish newspapers, listened to Irish language radio, even bought Irish brands when he could - and always drank in Irish pubs. Yet I sometimes feel that my own hunger and thirst for that culture far outweighed his own, or even my maternal grandmother's, who was also Irish. Achebe, however, has managed to turn art into experience and transform it with dialect (the dialectical process and the language), retaining the gift his parents encouraged him to take, which he used to reinvigorate his natural culture and endear it to the reading public.

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