A thousand people have said this before me, but THINGS FALL APART is truly a wonderful piece of fiction. From the first pages, you are immersed in a beautiful, strange (to me, anyway), fascinating culture that comes through in every description, in the words that come from the character's mouths, in the conflicts between individuals and the clash of cultures, and especially in Achebe's direct, articulate, sparesely beautiful style.
As other reviewers have noted, it's usually not the best when you're being forced to read it for a class. But look at it this way: most books aren't. If you're in that situation, try to get past the coercion factor and the problem of grades, and read this book for yourself. It's a "classic" -- that's why they're making you read it -- and no one hates "classics" more than I, but THINGS FALL APART is much, much more than a "classic" work of fiction. It is a tragedy, deeply felt, that draws an unerring portrait of human nature and especially human conflict. It is a good story, and one beautifully told. It is an education you owe to yourself. And if that's still not enough: it's short.
In So Vast the Prison, Assia Djebar takes full advantage of the novel as a flexible art form, moving majestically between narrative and history, bending the book's shape to reflect its concerns. In rich, poetic prose, she describes the women of Algeria and their inner lives of faith, longing, and grief. Aside from their aesthetic value, Djebar's innovative narrative strategies create an additional poignancy, as the artistic freedom she enjoys rubs against the restrictions placed on the women whom she portrays.
In this slim volume, Achebe, who pioneered the modern African novel with Things Fall Apart, criticizes European imperialism, which long usurped the cultures of African people. He examines the history of European writing about Africa, which always relegated Africans to the roles of subhumans, incapable of managing the rich land in which they lived and sorely in need of European guidance. Achebe also passionately celebrates African writers of his generation, who voiced African aspirations in the mid-twentieth century without speaking through the filters of imperialism and racism. He recounts his youth and education, lived in a culture he would later read about in books by Europeans, bitterly recognizing how colonization affected African history. He cites European images used to justify slavery and that persisted beyond slavery to justify imperialism and colonialism. Recognizing man to be a "story-making animal," Achebe eloquently recalls the process of repossessing a culture that, for ignoble purposes, was lost, stolen, and appropriated, demonstrating thereby that the "curative powers of stories can move the process forward."
The social or political implications of Ms. Gordimer's novels are usually just that--implications underlying an interesting story. In this case the basic question--Does a violent society provoke violence in nonviolent individuals?--is brought to the surface and debated....Ms. Gordimer's exploration of racial and generational differences is subtle, but the position of the parents as helpless bystanders in the legal process deprives the book of much of the narrative drive that this fine author normally provides.
From Kirkus Reviews from Kirkus Associates, LP
A passionately schematic moral anatomy of a murder. Gordimer's (None to Accompany Me, 1994, etc.) resolutely small cast of characters embodies uncomfortable social truths about contemporary South Africa--truths challenged in the course of the novel, which finally seems more universal than local. ``This is not a detective story,'' declares the writer quite early, but rather an opportunity to explore complex human contradictions regarding race, sexual identity, social relations, and ethical authority....A Dostoyevskian look at crime and punishment, although a far remove from the way the earlier master did it.
If you read this book about ethnic conflict with all its tragic consequences, power-and spoils-hungry predators, and outsider opportunists, this is the one.
Berkeley is very effective at showing how chaos is the fertile ground in which warlords sprout and tyranny and terror are the means through which they exploit the circumstances to the maximum.
I rate him alongside Michael Ignatieff as one of the best writer-analysts of the humanitarian crises that present perhaps the most compelling international (and moral) challenge of our time. I have work on these issues for the past decade and would put this book at or near the top of any reading list.
"Refreshing Insight into African Politics"
Reviewer: A reader from Baltimore, MD
I bought this book along with Michela Wrong's "In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz." Both are must-reads for anyone interested in Africa. The difference is that Wrong's book is a straight-forward narrative of Zaire's descent into anarchy, whereas Berkeley considers several instances of anarchy and goes one step further by attempting to explain how and why these grim situations came about. His central thesis - that anarchy is a tool used by tyrannical "Big Men" to secure and enhance their own power - helps to dispel the myth that Africa's problems are the result of "age-old hatreds" or "tribal conflicts." Berkeley does a great job of explaining the motives and methods of a diverse array of players (ranging from Mobutu to South African generals to American politicians), thus demonstrating their complicity in creating so many of Africa's past and present problems.
Best of all, Berkeley handles all this weighty material in a very user-friendly manner. The book is well-organized, the points are made clearly and strongly, and his first-hand accounts are vivid and fascinating - more than enough to keep you turning the pages. Highly recommended for anyone looking to understand modern Africa.
Complicated, Ambiguous, but Unarguably Interesting Reviewer: scottyspice from Knoxville, TN United States
Conrad's loosely plotted story of a sailor's trip into Africa and into the savage heart of human darkness is confusing, complicated, but thought provoking.
My experience with Heart of Darkness was frustrating, but ultimately I enjoyed the novel. Conrad certainly takes an interesting view to Colonialism, avoiding (albeit because of his own biases) too much of a sympathetic view of the African's situation. However, he is quick and harsh in his condemnation of European society.
Stylistically, Conrad is seen as one of the master's of the English language - I feel that he can and should be seen as a genius. The novel is short (more accurately it is a novella) but layered with meaning. The symbolism, although at times obvious, is well integrated into the story and keeps the reader's mind moving. The narrator, who is only partially reliable, adds a whole new layer of complexity to the story. And of course, the enigmatic purpose of his trip - a dark hunt for an ivory trader gone bad - is fairly interesting.
However, a reader expecting a concise moral at the end will be sorely disappointed: much contemporary criticism of the novel questions Conrad's effective use of theme. The novella clearly indicts every man; however, Conrad seems to offer no alternative to darkness and evil; at least in my reading experience I found the book to bring out the negative in life without any constructive remarks. Of course, the novella is confusing enough to allow for many different perspectives.
Heart of Darkness, at times beautifully written, at times confusingly put together, will defiantly challenge you - the thematic reward however may not equal the time put into it. I recommend approaching the book as a puzzle to be solved, not as an answer to your most compelling questions about life. In the end, Heart of Darkness feels like an amazing technical performance but with ironically no heart - like watching a graceful dancer just "going through the moves".
The beautiful yet shocking true story of a young woman who ran from her home in Togo to escape genital mutilation. She came to the United States hoping to gain asylum but because she did not have the proper papers and because at the time FGM was not grounds for political asylum she spent over a year locked up with other people trying to enter the country without legal reason. This book will make you angry at the injustices people face in the United States when trying to escape persecution in their own countries, but will help restore your faith in humanity when you read about all the people who were willing to work so hard to get Fauziya Kassindja citizenship here so she wouldn't be returned to Togo to face being genitally mutilated.
The Wrestling Match Reviewer: mjespuiva from Seattle, WA USA
For the first few pages of this book, I expected to dislike it - its language was awkward.... However, once the story developed its own momentum, the language became natural, pleasant to read.
The book is an excellent story of coming of age in a changing culture - the elders seemingly fail to understand the youth that has some education. These youth are caught in the middle; they don't want to farm in the traditional way yet they lack sufficient education for it to provide employment. They are in the middle in another sense - they are the children of the civil war. This leads to their coming of age event to be a wrestling match rather than a dance. Quietly and wisely in the background, several village elders orchestrate the events to teach the youth a lesson - in war everyone loses.
Reviewer: A reader from Washington, USA
This book is excellent reading for high schoolers. It exposes the reader to a culture that they probably no little about. More importantly, it is a story about teenagers and their struggles as they try to find their place in the world.