Sunday, September 14, 2008

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Has got to be my favorite book of all time. I cannot even keep count of how many times I have read it and I just finished it again last night.

I'm an Igbo girl cut off from my culture. I'm not sure if my parents did this on purpose although I think they did. It wouldn't be a stretch to say they were fanatically Christian (with all the fervor of youth that has now dissipated to make them much more moderate in their older age). Growing up, going to my father's town (village) meetings was something he frowned upon. Yam festivals were summarily dismissed as "pagan rituals". Masquerades were something that was frowned upon along with any other "fetish" things such as herbs and roots, spells and incantations by the local "witch doctor". I remember my father telling a story about how he used to suffer immensely with bouts of malaria (my Dad does not have the sickle cell trait which, they say, provides some kind of defense from the illness). His mother would scrape together what she could to go to the native doctor, to collect the roots and things to make a medicine for him. It must have tasted awful. But it kept him alive till he turned 21 when, he says, Jesus healed him completely and permanently after he decided during one particularly nasty episode to solely rely on Him and not his mother's roots. He always made his mother's roots seem vile, backwards, wicked and, worse yet, impotent. Yet it kept him alive all those years.

Anyway, I've never attended a traditional wedding. We visited Nigeria a total of two times while growing up. My parents did not teach us to speak Igbo although since I was an only child for 5 years before my sister came along, I understand it quite well and, with some serious thought, can speak a bit. My grandfather's funeral was my first glimpse into some aspect of traditional Igbo life and I absorbed it like a parched desert absorbs water. I kind on envy my cousin who had her traditional wedding in Nigeria some months ago. Oh, to be steeped in culture.

So, when I read this novel, I get little bits and pieces of that culture. It makes me feel connected even though many aspects of that culture have been destroyed. Oh, there are remnants such as traditional weddings and burials but all the spiritual aspects have been replaced by Christianity. To me, it makes these rituals hollow but, in the end, it's better than forgetting about the rituals altogether and it helps us remember who we are as Igbo people. Our identity. Well-established, rich and royal. Long before the coming of the European. Yes, there is conflict about some of our practices such as throwing twins away into the Evil Forest (which is, perhaps, the most disturbing for me) but I believe with my whole heart that every culture, even in a vacuum, eventually evolves. Because humans evolve. And humans make up culture.

The main character, Okonkowo, reminds me so much of my father. I love to imagine that I was there experiencing life in Umuofia. That I painted myself with cam wood and all that. :)

Of course, this novel is *HIGHLY* recommended reading. It is thought-provoking and intense. And just a masterfully told story.

1 comment:

St Theresa lent me her halo said...

I first encountered this book when I was in elementary school. My mother had to read it for a college class she was taking. I re-read it a few months ago. Very good book.

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