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Monday, 29 December 2008

Review of Things Fall Apart by Chinhua Achebe

In Things Fall Apart, Nigerian author, Chinhua Achebe, presents a vision of a society which existed in southern Nigeria before the arrival of British colonists in the 1890s. Polytheistic religion is deeply enmeshed in the social and cultural values of the Umoafia clan. Okonkwo, the main character, is a leading member of the clan. He embodies their prized virtues: strength, masculinity, hard work and proficiency as a warrior. Okonkwo is a proud and domineering man, who rules over his family as a feared patriarch. In Okonkwo, Achebe shows us that the pre-Christian Igbo had a sophisticated social system, which belies the anarchic vision of African society presented by western writers such as Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness. Yet Achebe is not at all sentimental about this pre-Christian society. He is unsparing in his depiction of the cruelty which Okonkwo inflicts on those around him in order to demonstrate his manhood.

The tragedy, which lies at the heart of Things Fall Apart, begins with the arrival of white missionaries. They find converts among the Umoafia, creating conflict with those who wish to retain the traditional ways. The introduction of Christianity is a cancer which rapidly destroys the fabric of the old society and subjugates Okonkwo's people to the mores and institutions introduced by the whites. This is more than Okonkwo can bear; eventually he kills himself.

In addition to its major message about the undervaluing of pre-colonial African societies in subsequent histories of the period, Things Fall Apart has much to say about the importance of kin relationships in preserving social stability. It also attacks the notion that qualities such as masculinity are fixed and unrelated to social expectations. The clash of cultures, which occurred in many parts of Africa during the colonial era, is brilliantly encapsulated in the struggle between the Umoafia and the white missionaries. Achebe is critical of the view that cultural identity is an immutable quality. People such as Okonkwo, who cannot adapt to changing times, are vanquished by new ideas and waves of migration.

Achebe's novel is rightly regarded as a classic of post-colonial African literature, and has made its way onto the reading lists of college courses worldwide. It is also a major bestseller, having sold over eight million copies.

It is recommended as a powerful insight into African history, told from the perspective of a society which existed before British colonists arrived in what is now Nigeria.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Review for Sirocco Express

Anne Brooke – the poet and novelist – has been kind enough to review my novel, Sirocco Express.

(Anne's writings, including her most recent novel, Maloney's Law, are featured on her website http://www.annebrooke.com/ and are available online with Amazon etc.).

Here is a copy of the five-star review that she posted on the Amazon UK site. Many thanks to Anne for her generous comments.

Sirocco Express is a powerful novel of journey, discovery and how to be human in an increasingly inhuman world. Adebayo, a young Nigerian, leaves his home in Lagos and embarks on an extraordinarily difficult journey to try to discover a better life in Europe. The journey is in marked contrast to the comforts and familiarity of home which are touched on very effectively in the first few chapters, although even so the themes of potential displacement and dis-content are never absent. I did find the final scenes between Adebayo and his father in this section, brief though they are, particularly moving.

Once established on his flight to the "good life", Adebayo finds himself in a shockingly unfamiliar world, accompanied by people smugglers and desperate companions, most of whom it would be wiser not to trust. In these circumstances, he must find his feet and try to carve out a place for himself. It is here that his instincts to do what is right bring him into dangerous conflict with the smugglers and make him what is essentially a marked man. The descriptions of the journey taken and of the people the migrants meet along the way are measured and clear, and it is especially interesting how the beauty of the landscape becomes bleak, coloured by the reasons for the journey itself.

On the way, there are moments of high drama, danger and death, placed alongside well-researched realism of how the people smuggling process actually operates. The final destination of Adebayo's travels, the ups and downs of his secret new life and the clever twist at the end are well worth the journey. Taken as a whole, the character of Adebayo in fact becomes a type of modern "Everyman" figure as his story, although unfamiliar in its detail to most of us in the West, contains elements of desire, search, vision and need common to us all. Indeed, with this in mind, there are also echoes of the novels of Paul Coelho in the way Sirocco Express is written: in short, it's one to read, one to ponder over and one to keep.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Brief review of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is Marilynne Robinson's second novel and was published 20 years after her acclaimed debut, Housekeeping. It takes the form of a long letter written by an elderly American preacher to his young son. Gilead recounts the family's history over several generations and distils the knowledge that the old man has gleaned from his years of study and reflection. The subject matter may appear uninviting to some readers, but persistence will bring rich rewards. This is a book to read slowly. The wisdom of a lifetime is woven deeply into the fabric of its narrative. I found myself constantly re-reading passages as I revelled in the simple power of Robinson's prose. Her mastery over her craft is humbling.