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You can almost feel the warmth of a campfire as Peter Francis James delivers a passionate reading of Chinua Achebe's classic African tale about power, prestige, and the Herculian struggle of one man to acquir status in the face of overwhelming odds and one gigantic obstacle after another: droughts, missionaries, poverty, and, most of all, his own powerful Shakespearian demons.
Things Fall Apart remains one of the most revered African novels ever written, and James brings an authoritative tone to this 1959 classic. Listening to his booming voice, you understand why he previously narrated portions of The Bible. His rich, baritone voice perfectly suits Achebe's fable-like prose. James' melodic voice lulls you into thinking this seemingly simple tale will resolve itself with everyone living happily ever after. Don't be fooled. This short, incisive book packs a punch you might not see coming right away.
The main character, Okonkwo, aspires to be everything his father was not: industrious, serious, successful, respected. But no matter how hard this determined farmer works, fate or the forces of nature seem to conspire against him. Then things become even more complicated when a missionary comes to Okonkwo's village. The changes seem subtle at first, but slowly the social fabric of the village begins to unravel like a loose strand of yarn in a hand-made sweater.
The razor-sharp plot twists could easily feel far-fetched in a lesser author's hands. But Achebe earns every predicament that bedevils Okonkwo with precise sentences and perceptive insights into what drives people to do what they do. And you don't have to know anything about Africa to relate to Okonkwo's struggles. Like all great authors, Achebe taps into the same fears and desires that inspire and consume people around the world, for better or for worse. Ken Ross
With over eight million copies in print world wide, Achebe's work is a definitive novel in African literature. Filled with powerful language and finely drawn characters, Things Fall Apart also shimmers with the sounds and sights of village life.
Okonkwo is born into poverty, with a wastrel for a father. Driven by ambition, he works tirelessly to gain the prosperity of many fields and wives, and prestige in his village. But he is harsh as well as diligent. As he sees the traditions of his people eroded by white missionaries and government officials, he lashes out in anger.
Things Fall Apart traces the growing friction between village leaders and Europeans determined to save the heathen souls of Africa. But its hero, a noble man who is driven by destructive forces, speaks a universal tongue.
Achebe's Magnum Opus is one of those essential novels that one can see greatness while at the same moment understand that part of its strength lies not in anything the novel itself ever does, but in the place the novel holds in time and place. If 'Things Fall Apart' were written 40 years earlier it would have probably been ignored both in Africa and the West. If it had been written 40 years later, it would have been seen as good postcolonialist novel, but just one of many. Coming when and where they did, 'Things Fall Apart'/Achebe managed to achieve greatness because they became the central model/mentor to which many later African novels/novelists would look as they tried to communicate their unique historical and cultural vision of modern Africa.
41 of 43 people found this review helpful
This book reads like a fantasy novel but is historically based fiction. It is an interesting tale of tribal African life at the dawn of colonization. The story and characters are captivating, especially the African wives’ tales. This book was on some lists of the best of the twentieth century. I would not go so far as that, but it is a good book, well worth the listen. As a book written by a native Nigerian that well received and praised in Africa and in the West in the late 1950’s, it deserved to be included in the lists of greats due to its good writing combined with its cultural importance.
The narration is excellent dealing well with the native vocabulary, expression of emotions, and storytelling.
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Things Fall Apart again? Why?
I started listening to it a second time. At the end of it listening to it a second time, I realized just how important the beginning was. Initially, it all seemed to be drudgery - a detailed description of life, almost like a National Geographic narration.
What did you like best about this story?
There is a subtlety to it that will be missed if you give up on the story without reading it to the end. In the middle of reading it, it seems to go on and on with the descriptions. By the end of it, you realize the genius of the author. He shows the civilization of the society - the system of government, rules and order. You get to know characters and to live side by side with them. You get to understand their confusion and pain at the end. The ending point is brilliant. It takes one sentence or so to sum it all up - to connect it to the historical callousness with which we are all too familiar.
Which scene was your favorite?
The sacrifice of Ikemefuna is most memorable to me. We got to know and care for Ikemefuna. We liked the way he became of part of Okonkwo's life and became the son he always wanted. We were happy for Okonkwo. It is the most memorable, because it is haunting. Okonkwo's shows some humanity while at the same time following the rules of tradition.
Who was the most memorable character of Things Fall Apart and why?
The author was my favorite. The story goes on in such an objective way - just the facts of life of the residents of Umofia. It really was not until the last line that we got an idea of how the author might have felt. It was pure genius of him.
Any additional comments?
The narrator was great. His tone and pronunciation were perfect. His monotone did not give the story away. It really kept the story on the National Geographic level - just relating the facts of life in Umofia. He was really perfect for that book. He really transported me there.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful
It seems that whenever Europeans come in contact with indigenous people anywhere in the world there is a sad story to tell. Lost traditions, human exploitation, religious intolerance are all part of this sad story. It is rare that we get a glimpse into the life of the people before the introduction of the "white man". This book gives us such a glimpse. The opening chapters show us a world of prosperity, long-held tradition, brutal but effective justice. The people of a village called Umofia in Nigeria have lived the same way for thousands of years. Everyone knows his place. Life is stable, predictable, eternal.
Okonkwo is a leader in this village, famed for his prowess as a great wrestler. Well-off in his compound with his barns full of yams and his three wives, he lives the good life. An accident topples him from his high place in his society, and from there, nothing is ever the same. We watch the inevitable change occurring over a decade when Christian missionaries begin a slow but irrevocable imposition of new thoughts, beliefs, customs and laws.
This book reminded me again and again of "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" (Dee Brown) for its wonderful vision of life before European influence. The story is told from the inside. The reader (listener) is not aware of any world beyond the borders of the land Okonkwo and his family and village occupy. The culture is self-contained, without any reference to a position in relation to the rest of the globe of humanity. This part of the story could be taking place at any time in the history in Africa. But with the first visit by the missionaries on their "iron horses", Okonkwo, his children and the whole people of the Nine Villages are thrust suddenly and forever into modern times.
I loved this book. I hated the way it ended, but the ending was exactly right. There is no turning back the clock. Peter Francis James' reading is patient and strong and sets the pace for the characters to live their lives and the story to unwind in their own time.
-Amy McLean (Jonathan's wife)
27 of 32 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Things Fall Apart again? Why?
Yes, because another listen would allow me to focus on nuances, rather than trying so hard to keep the many characters straight.
What other book might you compare Things Fall Apart to and why?
Maybe something from Ben Okri.
What does Peter Francis James bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
I was grateful for a narrator who knew how to pronounce the names. This would be a big stumbling block if I were simply reading the book.
If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?
On balance, African and European cultures are no better or worse than each other.
Any additional comments?
My feeling was that, the old African culture presented in the beginning is portrayed as much more sophisticated and fair-minded than the Europeans can imagine. However, Achebe does understand that this is an entirely male-centric culture and I think he has sympathy for the women and for the "misfits."
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
I tried to read “Things Fall Apart” years ago, but I was stymied by the Ibo names and words. Chinua Achebe wrote in English, but there was so much in Ibo, it slowed me down. I wondered so much if I was thinking of the right pronunciations, I stopped reading it.
Achebe died earlier this year, and I wanted to know the book. For me, “Things Fall Apart” was much better as an audio book. I do not know if Peter James Francis knows Ibo, the language of the Igbo people, but he pronounced the names, words, and phrases without hesitation. I stopped worrying about how to say the names, and enjoyed the story.
With a title like “Things Fall Apart,” though, you know things are not going to end well in this book - and they do not. “Things Fall Apart” was set in Africa, and Okonkwa, the protagonist, is not ‘Westernized’. Okonkwa has three wives and clings to traditions, trying to redeem what he believes is a wastrel of a father. The epic tragedies of William Shakespeare come to mind, although the story and the setting are half a world away. My heart broke listening to this book - and that was only 1/3 of the way through.
I talked to my son, who is a sophomore in high school, about this book. He’d had the same trouble I’d had reading the book in print that I did, and listened to an audible version while reading the book for his English class. He thought it was helpful, and after his A+ in that class, I agree.
24 of 31 people found this review helpful
My teen age sons and I all enjoyed this classic, especially as experienced through the wonderful narration. They both had to read it in 8th grade and I'm not sure they would have listed it as one of their favorite all time books without the compelling audio. The narrator's voice seems exactly right and is helpful with the unfamiliar vocabulary.
This story of a tragedy of colonial invasion seems to have continuing relevance, unfortunately. Definitely a classic to have experienced for yourself.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I bought this book to listen to for a World History class dealing with the 19th and 20th centuries. All too often World History tends to focus on the West at the expense of non-western cultures; Africa being most notable amount those. With this in mind I was more than happy for this breath of fresh air.
This book provides a great view of life in Nigeria both before and during the British colonization. Mr. Achebe shows Nigeria as it was, with both the good and bad aspects. You get a sense of what it was like not only for those whose lives we're impacted negatively by colonization, but also those given opportunity by the British (as you'll see in the book, while not exactly positive by any stretch of the imagination, the process of colonization wasn't quite so black and white).
The narrator did an excellent job; it was like I was sitting around a fire in Nigeria hearing stories told by one of the village elders of days long ago.
If you're looking to learn more about an all too often ignored part if World History, or more about African History in general, this is a great place to start. Also a great place for those interested in non-western authors, especially African Writers.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up Things Fall Apart in three words, what would they be?
Tragedy of History
What was one of the most memorable moments of Things Fall Apart?
The jailing of the six tribe leaders and how they were treated was painful to read about because it was so unfair for the D.C. not to try to understand the Igbo culture.
8 of 10 people found this review helpful
Chinua Achebe explains what happens when civilizations collide in “Things Fall Apart”. Achebe lived a life that proves the truth of his novel.
Achebe was born in Nigeria but educated in English at the University of Ibadan, the oldest university in Nigeria (founded in 1948). Achebe, born in 1930, wrote “Things Fall Apart” in the 1950s (published in 1958). It sold more than 12 million copies and was translated into more than 50 languages. It is a story of the changing face of Nigeria. (Sadly, Achebe died this year on March 21, 2013.)
Without knowing Achebe’s background, a first reading of “Things Fall Apart” begins in confusion but as the story progresses its meaning and value become clear. Two thirds of the book explains life in an African village that is untouched by a white man’s world or any civilization outside of its clan and its related communities. The listener is being offered an understanding of an African village’s culture.
From the perspective of the clan’s leaders, “Things Fall Apart”. Achebe gives the world a first-hand account of how a tribal culture is destroyed. One proud culture is replaced by another proud culture; first with small steps, and then with generational leaps. The good and bad of one culture are replaced by the good and bad of another.
After listening to Achebe’s book, one guardedly chooses to believe that cultural evolution is moving toward a better life for Africans.
7 of 9 people found this review helpful