The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.
This is a hard book for me to review, because I feel like I am missing some essential element needed to understand the greater message of the novel. I had a really hard time connecting to this story and its characters. The plot of the story is sparse. Not a lot happens. Because of this, I had a hard time connecting with the characters and their journeys.
I get why the book is called Things Fall Apart. Events outside of Okonkwo’s control cause his world to fall apart and send him into exile for seven years. His tribe and culture begin to “fall apart” under the outside influences of western culture after the missionaries move in and begin converting tribe members. I can certainly understand this to a point. I have studied colonialism and its effects on different cultures, but having never experienced it myself, I will admit that my understanding is limited. I think that is why narratives like Things Fall Apart are important. It prevents us from, what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the “danger of a single story” (Sidenote: Check out her TED Talk on this topic here. It’s incredibly powerful). Stories like this are important because they contribute to a broader understanding of the human experience, which is both universal and unique.
There were a lot of times throughout this novel that I had to stop myself from judging the characters through the lens of my own cultural understanding. There were many instances, especially with the main character Okonkwo and his wives, where I found myself getting worked up, forgetting that he exists in a different culture, with different values and social norms. While I personally I don’t think that this is a legitimate justification for his actions, it does help to understand why he acted this way. Even if it makes me cringe.
In the end, I can’t say that I enjoyed this novel. In truth, I read it because I had to. I recognize the necessity of having narratives like this written, published, and read. I just can’t say that this novel did anything for me, but to add a very small piece of the puzzle to understanding a culture quite different from my own. I don’t say this to diminish the novel in any way; I can only speak to my experience. I would encourage others to give the book a chance, despite my low rating. You will be no worse for wear if you decide to pick up this book, and at the very least, you will come away from this novel more culturally aware than before.