Having recently blogged about the ‘literary canon’ and what has historically been excluded from it, a fellow blogger raised a pressing question: what about non-English books? And, more to the point, what about non-European/North American literature?
Inspired by this issue, and in tribute to the recent passing of one of Africa’s greatest writers, I wanted to write a bit about Chinua Achebe’s first and well-loved novel: Things Fall Apart.
Okonkwo is a great warrior; his fame is far-reaching. Never to show weakness, he even kills the prisoner of a neighbouring village who has become like a son to him. But, after a fatal accident in which he kills a clansman, Okonkwo and his family are exiled for seven years. Whilst they are in exile, Okonkwo is brought news that some intruders, including white man, have come to his village. They build a church. By the time of Okonkwo’s return, the village as he knew it has completely changed.
Things Fall Apart is a captivating, beautifully crafted novel which powerfully captures a moment of colonialism. And this brings us back to that question of language – as an imperial language, can English truly express the reality of the multifarious experiences of Africans?
This, of course, is not a new question. Whether or not African authors should write in English has been a subject of fierce debate, particularly between Chinua Achebe and Kenya’s Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who, having previously written in English, now writes mostly in Gikuyu.
Things Fall Apart, however, was written in English and is a powerful and important book, one I would highly encourage you to read.