The Brown Baggers often begin their discussions with a quick overview of the author’s life, work, and other pertinent details. Even the most well-known names are often accompanied by an interesting fact or two, and this refresher helps ground the book’s authorship to a particular time and place. Many group members instantly associate Chinua Achebe with Things Fall Apart, September’s selection, but our collective knowledge did not extend much past this seminal work. It was interesting to learn more about his writing career as a whole. Many group members had read the book once long ago and appreciated the chance to revisit it.
One of the major topics we discussed regarding this novel was the question of authenticity. In our discussion of Achebe’s life and writing, we learned that he started writing books about Africa in response to the canon he was exposed to as a child. Written almost exclusively by Europeans, these works portrayed the African people as mere savages. Achebe felt that African literature should emerge organically from Africans — resulting eventually in Things Fall Apart. The Brown Baggers all enthusiastically agreed that it was refreshing to read such an authentic work, but then paused to consider that as outsiders ourselves, we may not be the best audience to make these judgments.
Much of the rest of the discussion discussed many of these differences and similarities in culture and characters. It was helpful to consider Obierika as a contrast to Okonkwo, somehwat as a benchmark within the community. We noted the use of Christian allusions in various scenes, but also noting that rituals such as breaking bread can be found in many traditions. Some of the aspects of the religious practices in the book, such as the treatment of ogbanje or twins, seemed barbaric to us, but the new ideas and customs of the missionaries must have seemed equally baffling. The motivations of Okonkow’s suicide were a contested topic — some of us felt it very uncharacteristc, while others saw it as a defiant protest. With his way of life completely decimated, this was his last resort.
Like this author? See other books by Chinua Achebe in JMRL’s catalog.
Recommended in the discussion, the keystone work for understanding the Western view of the “Other” is Edward Said’s Orientalism.
Join the Brown Baggers on October 16 at noon to discuss I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.