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Weekly Writing Challenge: The Inimitable Chinua Achebe…

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“It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have – otherwise their surviving would have no meaning.” Chinua Achebe

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Inimitable Chinua Achebe… Things Fall Apart

“Then listen to me,’ he said and cleared his throat. ‘It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme. Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring your mother a heavy face and refuse to be comforted? Be careful or you may displease the dead. Your duty is to comfort your wives and children and take them back to your fatherland after seven years. But if you allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they will all die in exile.” Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

UPDATE: It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of an illustrious writer, a great son of Anambra State, Nigeria, and one of the pivotal influences on my love for the written word. Chinua Achebe passed away after a brief illness and he will be terribly missed. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family. RIP Mazi Achebe. Ijeoma, Chukwu dobe gi.

What is your earliest memory of a writer or book that had an enormous impact on your life? Which books have influenced your Worldview? Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, and his classic book Things Fall Apart played a pivotal role in shaping my earliest views of the complexity of human behavior. It had an enormous impact on my thinking and writing life too. As a child, I read my fair share of Fairy Tales and Children’s books and understood the good-meets-bad-and-vanquishes-evil format. However, during the Nigeria – Biafra war, I was exposed to the writings of Achebe and his milieu. I read Things Fall Apart first and it pulled me in like a spider’s web, holding me captive. I devoured every word and every story; the power of his incisive language cut through any confusions I had about our Ibo culture.  I read the sequel, No Longer at Ease (1960), then,  Arrow of God (1964),  A Man of the People (1966), Anthills of the Savannah (1987), and his other works.  Achebe’s writings captured the cadence of the language and life in the village, as well as the minutiae of daily struggles and interactions.

During the war, the goal of encouraging Ibos of all ages to read books by Ibo writers was multilayered; First, there was much to learn about Ibo history, culture, and philosophy in those books; education mattered to the Ibo but the war had interrupted our studies, therefore, learning everything about our social interactions and traditions through the keen eyes and words of Ibo writers/thinkers would ensure we continued to gain reading skills. Reading Ibo writers was another way of substantiating the argument that learning/maintaining Ibo culture was imperative for the survival of the group; storytelling was a key way of passing down family stories and community history, therefore, mastering the written word was the next step to preserving valuable information gathered through the oral tradition of storytelling.

“There is no story that is not true, […] The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others.” Chinua Achebe

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Inimitable Chinua Achebe… Chinua Achebe

“ The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity. William Butler Yeats

Additionally, since all schools were closed during the latter part of the war, literature was an important way to ground us, indoctrinate us even, in all things Ibo and Biafran – in preparation for a new world order we were going to inherit once we won the war for independence from Nigeria. Whatever the motivations, Achebe’s bold book struck a chord and kindled a love for the written word; a love that remains vibrant in my heart today.

Things Fall Apart is a powerful tale about bravado and betrayal in the fictional village of Umuofia. It introduces the reader to a deeply flawed and strong man, the protagonist, Okonkwo, whose life is controlled by two debilitating emotions; anger and fear. It is a story of the beauty and cruelty of customs and rigid traditions; the delicate balance of life in an Ibo village and the characters that populate it. It is also the tragic tale of Okonkwo’s treatment of the young sacrificial boy, Ikemefuna, which remains one of the most disturbing stories of fate and betrayal. The book is rich with Ibo proverbs and nuanced exchanges that serve as an education to those of us still learning about the mores of Ibo life.

“When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.” Chinua Achebe

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Inimitable Chinua Achebe… Nigeria’s linguistic groups

“Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate that the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of the forces of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external but lay deep within himself.” Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Has a book ever brought you to tears? Have you put down a book you were reading because you were overcome by emotion; touched by a powerful event in the book that triggered something in you? I remember the first time I read Things Fall Apart; I had to put it down several times as the painful scenes became overwhelming… There were many unsettling scenes as Achebe’s characters lived in a period when village life was brutal, often short, and filled with peril.

Villages battled each other, women died at childbirth, warring factions settled scores by seizing humans for sacrifices to the gods; all under the seemingly steady, languid pace of life in a farming enclave. There were moments of searing tragedy and pain for Okonkwo and his co-villagers, moments of delightful celebrations, and then, there was Ikemefuna and the complicated relationship he had with Okonkwo. When Ikemefuna was killed, I wept. When that happens in a book, I take time to regroup and to examine what made a particular passage so painful; so poignant. I believe that great books touch both our hearts and our souls… More below!

“At the most one could say that his chi or … personal god was good. But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed. ” Chinua Achebe

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Inimitable Chinua Achebe… Ibo People: Olaudah Equiano, aka Gustavus Vassa, Jaja of Opobo Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Ogbuefi Ezedudu, who was the oldest man in the village, was telling two other men when they came to visit him that the punishment for breaking the Peace of Ani had become very mild in their clan. It has not always been so,” he said. “My father told me that he had been told that in the past a man who broke the peace was dragged on the ground through the village until he died. But after a while this custom was stopped because it spoiled the peace which it was meant to preserve.” Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

What was the most memorable line you ever read by them and how did it exemplify their tone? There is a popular saying attributed to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, it says, “He who does not know where he is going must, at least, know where he is coming from.” What struck me about that quote was that it was a reminder of the rich proverb driven way the elders spoke in the village and how everything revolved around family trees, history, hierarchy and legacy. I’ve added some classic Ibo proverbs (from Achebe’s books) below that are often used in conversations in the community.

In many African communities, people always ask who your family is when they meet you. Your individual name carries less weight than the family name and history that precedes you. So they ask, “My dear, which compound/household do you belong to? What are your ancestral ties?” Whenever I feel disconnected, I reach back to my ancestral connections, directly and indirectly, and remember the ties that strengthen and affirm me. Reading African/World literature is definitely one way and writing is another way I connect. Chinua Achebe and his writings  have been a tremendous blessing and influence in my life as a writer… I am grateful for the education.

“Among the Ibo the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.”
“Our elders say that the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them.”
” As the elders said, if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings.”
“When the moon is shining the cripple becomes hungry for a walk.”
“An old woman is always uneasy when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb.”
“The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did.”
“As our fathers said, you can tell a ripe corn by its look.”
“Those whose palm kernels were cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble.”
“The Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed.”
“A child’s fingers are not scalded by a piece of hot yam which its mother puts into its palm.”
“When mother-cow is chewing grass its young ones watch its mouth.”
“Whenever you see a toad jumping in broad daylight, then know that something is after its life.”

I hope you enjoyed this post. What about you and your stylish imitation? What are your thoughts? Did you have one author or several stylish imitations? Where did your material come from? What memories do they hold for you? What insights could you share with others? Do share! Have a spectacular weekend ahead! You are already a light on the path. Thank you.

This post was inspired by a prompt from WP Weekly Writing Challenge: Stylish Imitation   Like it or not, we all have our own style. Where we’re from, our local colloquialisms, our favorite writers, and our preferred subject matter all influence the tone and language in our posts. We do not blog in a vacuum. For this week’s exercise, tell us about a writer whose style most influenced your writing voice. Who was that author that when you first picked up one of their books, you thought, “I need to write”? What was the most memorable line you ever read by them and how did it exemplify their tone?

*Please bear with me as I catch up on your blogs and commenting… I’m back on track with reading and responding to your blogs; albeit at a slow pace. Thank you all for your patience!

Positive Motivation Tip: The written word can be used to inform, elevate, educate, challenge, motivate, destroy others, build memories and heal… Use it wisely.

PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: All Photos: Things Fall ApartChinua Achebe, Linguistic map, Igbo People, via my Wikipedia.

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank
Mirth and Motivation
Positive Kismet

35 Comments leave one →
  1. 12/09/2012 7:27 am

    Absolutely fantastic post – thank you!

    • 12/09/2012 7:30 am

      Thank you so much for your feedback Julie… always appreciated. I’ve been AWOL because of an old back wound. Glad to be back! 🙂

      • 12/09/2012 7:36 am

        My reply to you cancelled itself I think – is your back okay now?

      • 12/09/2012 8:08 am

        Barely… But I’m taking all the necessary help to ease it. Thanks for asking. 😉

    • Bree permalink
      13/09/2012 9:25 am

      Wishing you renewed health and healing for your back.

      • 14/09/2012 2:00 am

        TY for your kind words. 🙂

  2. 12/09/2012 9:18 am

    Now that I read your comprehensive review on the book, Things Fall Apart, I think I need to go back an reread it. When one is not familiar with the culture written in a story, it makes it difficult to really relate to the words of the author.
    Thank you.
    The positive tip for today, by the way, is excellent…how true we can either uplift or destroy in just a few words.

    • 12/09/2012 9:40 am

      Hi Sunshine, thanks for your feedback… I enjoyed your piece too. It is hard to teach a subject without some background in the culture or, at least, an appreciation for the culture. Things Fall Apart is a terrific book but a challenge for anyone unwilling to keep an open mind about the culture and people in the book. Sadly, many don’t make the effort anymore. I love World Literature because it opens my mind to other people and cultures and in a way, it offers a mini vacation right at home. People talk endlessly about a better world… but forget that a better world is a diverse and inclusive world, not one where every body is looking through the same lens… 🙂 Just my two cents!

      • 13/09/2012 6:03 am

        I love your two cents, Elizabeth!
        Your thoughts on world literature, “…it opens my mind to other people and cultures and in a way, it offers a mini vacation right at home…” is very true and I believe it. I have to admit, Things Fall Apart was a tough read for me mainly as you said, not having enough background into the culture.

        Going off to another book, have you read “Cutting Stone” by Abraham Verghese? What an epic book that is!

        Thanks again for the mind food! 🙂

    • 14/09/2012 2:02 am

      TY Sunshine, I am passionate about this subject…. I have not read the author you mentioned but will check it out. TY again! 🙂

  3. 12/09/2012 9:45 am

    Just wanted to add this here as some remain unclear about what that term means: Link baiting is when people send out tantalizing links that have little or nothing to do with the subject at hand. If I send you a link on nude scuba diving in Australia when the subject is Stylish Imitation, then I have link baited you. However, when I respond to this topic and send a pingback to your blog because Zemanta or DP has you as a legitimate participant, it is NOT link baiting. There is a clear distinction between genuine ping backs and link baiting. Plus the links from here are no follow links so they do not add to our stats.
    Hope this clarifies it. Let us not forget that blogging is a great way to connect with other writers and reciprocity goes a long way… As Erica suggested in this week’s writing challenge post, we don’t blog in a vacuum. Reach out and connect!
    Happy Blogging to you all!

    • Bree permalink
      13/09/2012 9:55 am

      Excellent explanation of the term. You would think bloggers would want to support each other on an assignment like this one and not resort to the usual petty ways of thinking. Erica is right, blogging is not done in a vacuum and if people are reluctant to connect and communicate with other bloggers, they have missed the point of blogging. It is not a contest! Goof for you to say something about it.

      • 14/09/2012 3:41 am

        Love that line… it is NOT a contest!!!! TY! 🙂

  4. 12/09/2012 10:43 am

    This was very insightful, Elizabeth! I remember when I read Things Fall Apart. It really struck me in an interesting way– straight to the core. It made me feel things I didn’t realize a book could make me feel at the time (I was still pretty young when I read it), and there was a point where every now and then when my mind wandered, I would think back to that book and mourn the senseless that essentially was so destructive.

    • 12/09/2012 10:45 am

      TY Nikki and I’m glad you read it and remembered it too… Often, people have told me they didn’t understand any of it. so I’m glad you did… Thanks again for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  5. 12/09/2012 11:04 am

    Good post! It’s amazing how far books can take us into a culture!

    • 12/09/2012 11:11 am

      So true and it is always surprising to find out that sometimes the books we read with glee are a mystery to others… Glossaries are vital. TY! 🙂

  6. 13/09/2012 1:56 am

    Fantastic post, thank you so much for sharing! I studied “Things Fall Apart” in university four years ago, absoluetly loved the book. Your post has inspired me to shake the dust off the cover and start reading it again, I´d forgotten how much I loved it! G 🙂

    • 14/09/2012 10:30 am

      Do read it again. I regularly pick up favorite books and delve in to gain new insights. TY! 🙂

  7. 13/09/2012 8:05 am

    Oh Eliz, that is the most passionate review of a book I have read ever! And the excerpts you have provided, are gems that explain why this book touched you so deeply. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Thank you so much.

    • 14/09/2012 3:34 am

      TY Madhu! Grateful for the feedback… Feel free to ask me any questions when you read it. 🙂

  8. Bree permalink
    13/09/2012 9:07 am

    This is an excellent report on one of the most well respected writers from the continent. Things Fall Apart is a classic globally and read in universities around the world. I’m impressed by the way you wove his excerpts into your post. It is a complex but richly rewarding read for anyone interested in other cultures. Thank you for sharing this and I hope your fellow bloggers will have a chance to read and appreciate this excellent post.

    • 14/09/2012 3:37 am

      TY for the feedback and I hope he wins a Nobel Prize soon. It would be great if others (especially my fellow participants in this writing challenge) would read and comment and read his book… TY dear! 😉

  9. Bree permalink
    13/09/2012 9:44 am

    I agree that keeping an open mind to literature from around the world is like taking a mini vacation to a new country. Sadly, many are stuck listening only to the sounds of their own neighborhood and rarely expose themselves to other cultural contributions.

    • 14/09/2012 3:39 am

      Well said… especially in such a rich and culturally vibrant world with so much to learn. TY! 🙂

  10. 14/09/2012 4:31 am

    Elizabeth, this is a brilliant post on the revered Chinua Achebe. reading the thread of the comments, I am glad you hinted broadly that people should have a broad view when reading books from other cultures; of course knowing the background also helps. I read Thigs Fall Apart a log while ago, not as a lit book, but purely for pleasure and I was touched on so many levels. Yes, the doomed Ikemefuna, whose death was one of the decisive factors leading to the downfall of Okonkwo. I rather liked him though his character was not much developed probably due to the fact that he died early. I would say that Thigs fall apart passes the test of a tragedy as defined by the Aristotelian concept. I also enjoyed books like The Concubine by Elechi Amadi, Ola Rotimi’s play Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again adn Gods Are Not to Blame. Recently I re-read, Arrow of God and this also had a profound impact on me. BTW, I have a healthy resepct for Ibo or NIgerian proverbs; they are legendary. Thank you for sharing, Elizabeth. 🙂

    • 14/09/2012 5:30 am

      Thank you Cecelia and your comment made me smile; reminding me that the effort was worth it… I also enjoyed reading Achebe’s other books and the authors you mentioned as well. Proverbs are such a part of community life that it would seem strange if an elder spoke without peppering his/her language with them… Ah the memories! 🙂

  11. 14/09/2012 11:56 am

    My husband found this post first and forwarded it to me, knowing that I would like to read your thoughts on Things Fall Apart. What an insightful discourse on this book… touching on ties to one’s heritage and excessive pride, two important themes as well as how the author has influenced you as a writer. When I taught World Literature to high school sophomores this was required reading. Before I introduced the book I gave my students a written attitude survey about certain topics introduced in the story. One being…what are your views on ancestral worship? Unequivocally they responded that it was wrong. After reading Things Fall Apart they were handed back the old survey and asked to answer again but with a different color pen. Their views changed dramatically. Their cultural attitudes and prejudices were challenged by this story and the outcome was rewarding for them and for me as a teacher and facilitator.And of course it brought up the themes of cultural changes brought on by white men and religion. Things do fall apart…change is inevitable.
    I like memoir and Falling Leaves and Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah , the true story of an unwanted Chinese Daughter has been influential for me. (Sorry this is so long)

    • 14/09/2012 12:04 pm

      TY so much for your thoughts Lynne! I am grateful for the details too because, as teachers, we do our best to ensure our students learn more than superficial details. I am happy that you delved deep into the text and your survey opened their eyes to the fact that at the end of the day, the ties that bind us are universal. Thank you again for sharing and thank you to your hubby too! 🙂

  12. Etol Bagam permalink
    20/09/2012 10:40 am

    So nice to have read this. And now I really want to read Things Falling Apart. It was also interesting to see the languages group in Nigeria. I have been working with Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba for the past 4 years (no I can’t understand any, just work with them, by sending English stuff to be translated into those languages 😉 ), but had no idea how many more languages are there in Nigeria.

    • 10/10/2012 2:18 am

      Fantastic Etol! Glad to connect with a blogger who has had exposure to the languages… Do read the book again as I believe it would be a richer experience.. TY! 🙂

  13. Etol Bagam permalink
    26/10/2012 1:32 pm

    Hi there. Just to let you know that today I finished Jazz, from Christian Mihai ( and am about to start reading Things Falling Apart, which my mom gave me as a birthday gift earlier this week. ;o) I’ll let you know once I finish it.


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