Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart


A high school class I was covering for a few days was reading this. I took a look at it after playing them a chapter of the audiobook. The voice piqued my interest and I found a copy in Bookhounds a week later. I’d heard of it in an ambiguous way, but I didn’t realize until I had started reading it that the album “Yam, the King of Crops” by The Mountain Goats was inspired/sprung from this book. It’s a short, easy read with a very straightforward voice and a driving plot. It’s an especially perfect book for younger readers and I’m thrilled it’s on so many school reading lists.

Things Fall Apart is a perfect demonstration of why the phrase “show, don’t tell” (quoted ad nauseum in writing workshops, forums and books on the craft) is mostly useless. Achebe tells the reader directly what Okonkwo is thinking, forgoing the needless obfuscation that would arise from trying to shoehorn in narrative actions, gestures, and artificial-sounding dialogue. The book avoids all of this, leveraging its directness for all the authority and dramatic importance possible. It’s a simple, tragic story with familiar archetypal themes (this is not a complaint).

The story of Okonkwo resonates. He is profoundly male, flawed and driven to extremes but far from unknowable. I couldn’t help but noticing similarities to Steinbeck’s The Pearl -both featuring powerful yet dysfunctional men and large human themes relayed through fable. They are both stories that use an instructive form with subversive intent, teaching us about the uncomfortable realities of our nature rather than a simple instructive moral lesson. Achebe tells a moving story without presenting a clear lesson to be learned, imitating reality not with the studied and constructed realism of James or Wharton but by evoking that which we know to be true about our nature.


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