Classics: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe & Matigari by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

Hey everyone! Below are mini reviews of two classics written by two, brilliant, African literature pioneer writers. I enjoyed these books over the summer 🙂

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall ApartDate re-Read: July 12th 2015 (previously read in 2007)

Published: January 2010 (originally published in 1958)

Publisher: Penguin Books

Pages: 152

 

The Blurb

Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a powerful fable of the immemorial conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world with the arrival of aggressive European missionaries. These perfectly harmonized twin dramas are informed by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.

Review –★★★★ (4 stars)

What more can I say about this book? Everyone and their grandparents have read this classic. Most readers hated Okonkwo – the main character, for valid reasons. Who would have thought this true-blooded chauvinist would ultimately take his own life? Killing yourself is a cowardly, weak move, no? Despite Okonkwo’s brashness and overt disdain for females and all things ‘womanly’, I understood him, so I appreciated him.

It’s hard not to resent the British colonizers for the damage they caused Africa in the past. The British came with full force, masked in Christianity and denied natives of the African continent control over their own land. Change is never easy, but I guess sometimes it’s necessary? Many harmful indigenous practices which were revered prior colonization have been abolished for example – the killing of twins and thankfully, many other practices that were tagged with superstitious beliefs. Things Fall Apart gives readers a lot to think about: gender inequality, superstition, tradition versus modernity, masculinity versus femininity etc. I’m glad I re-read this during the summer. It was refreshing to reconnect with this masterpiece that Achebe wrote back in 1958. Things Fall Apart will always be a solid 4.5 stars for me.

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Things Fall Apart from Amazon

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Matigari by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

MatigariDate Read: August 11th 2015

Published: June 1989 (originally published in 1986)

Publisher: Heinemann (African Writers Series)

Pages: 175

The Blurb

Who is Matigari? Is he young or old; a man or fate; dead or living… or even a resurrection of Jesus Christ? These are the questions asked by the people of this unnamed country, when a man who has survived the war for independence emerges from the mountains and starts making strange claims and demands.

Matigari is in search of his family, to rebuild his home and start a new and peaceful future, but his search becomes a quest for truth and justice as he finds the people still dispossessed and the land he loves ruled by corruption, fear and misery. Rumors spring up that a man with superhuman qualities has risen to renew the freedom struggle. The novel races towards its climax as Matigari realizes that words alone cannot defeat the enemy. He vows to use the force of arms to achieve his true liberation.

Lyrical and hilarious in turn, Matigari is a memorable satire on the betrayal of human ideals and on the bitter experience of post-independence African society.

Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

Matigari is the ultimate African post-colonial, social justice novel. And of course, Ngūgī wa Thiong’o executes the storyline brilliantly with the strength and courage of character,  Matigari ma Njiruungi – a patriot who goes to great lengths to ensure there is justice for the oppressed in a (fictitious) nation. Matigari ensures there is justice for the oppressed with the help of an orphan and a former prostitute and readers follow this team on their brave, almost rebellious journey to peace and justice. Matigari is a satirical novel. Ngūgī wa Thiong’o uses some elements of magical realism and lots of Christian allegory which are very symbolic in this novel.

But I don’t think this book is for everyone. It can be quite dry and may be too ‘political’ for some readers. Matigari was not a fast/easy read for me: I started reading it in May and finished it in August. But if you appreciate African oral literature and post-colonial literary works – read this! It is indeed powerful.

Favorite quotes:

“The true seeker of truth never loses hope. The true seeker of real justice never tires. A farmer does not stop planting seeds just because of the failure of one crop. Success is born of trying and trying again. Truth must seek justice. Justice must seek the truth. When justice triumphs, truth will reign on earth” pg. 84 [one of Matigari’s many meditations].

“Pregnancies are the result of the evil and wild desires. I shall ask the government to ban dreams and desires of that kind for a period of about two years. Fucking among the poor should be stopped by a presidential decree!” (HILARIOUS!) pg. 120 [said a member of parliament – a typical man in power, guilty of squandering government money].

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

Purchase Matigari from Amazon

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Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir by Ngūgī wa Thiong’o

NgugiWaThiongo

Date Read: March 22nd 2015

Published: 2010

Publisher: Vintage Books

Pages: 256

 

The Blurb

Ngūgī wa Thiong’o is born the fifth child of his father’s third wife, in a family that includes twenty-four children to four different mothers. He spends his 1930s childhood as the apple of his mother’s eye, before attending school to slake what is considered a bizarre thirst for learning.

As he grows up, the wider political social changes occurring in Kenya begin to impinge on the boy’s life in both inspiring and frightening ways. Through the story of his grandparents and parents, and his brothers’ involvement in the violent Mau Mau uprising, Ngūgī deftly etches a tumultuous era, capturing the landscape, the people and their culture, and the social and political vicissitudes of life under colonialism and war.

Review  ★★★★ (4 stars)

I didn’t think this book would have such an impact on me. I was a bit emotional by the end of the novel. Every time I read a Kenyan novel, I’m hungry to learn more about the country’s past. This is a very touching memoir. Ngūgī wrote this with such love and care and I admire him a lot – especially his family, which was headed by his resilient mother.

Kenya’s history plays a large role in this book, for obvious reasons. It’s as if Kenya was a separate character on its own, being abused by colonial masters (the British) while tolerating several ethnic group divisions and tensions from its fellow citizens. Commentary on the civil war, Jomo Kenyatta – Kenya’s founding father, Mbiyu Koinange – a highly educated politician and Kenyatta’s right hand man, Mau Mau guerrillas, the politics of the Kenyan educational system, the role of the Indians in Limuru etc are all discussed at length in this memoir. If you are not familiar with Kenyan history, prior knowledge is not necessarily needed to enjoy this book because Ngūgī does a great job at thoroughly explaining various historical events. I was thrilled to read on how Black Americans like Booker T. Washington (through Tuskegee University), Martin Luther King Jr. and Marcus Garvey supported and played vital roles in encouraging Kenyan independence. I loved how there was unity of all peoples of African descent in demanding their freedom from white rule.

Don’t worry- this memoir is not all about politics. Readers get insights into the dynamics of Ngūgī’s polygamous family and the effects the family structure had on him. Family members like his mother, Good Wallace (his older brother), Kabae (one of his half brothers who fought in World War II) were important in shaping Ngūgī into the man he is now, for various (polarizing) reasons. Family units play a huge role in the future of children and this memoir demonstrates this heavily.

Ngūgī’s dedication to following his dreams even during Kenya’s unstable state was truly admirable. He had a passion for learning and thanks to a pact he made with his mother, he vowed to pursue his education – even in the times of war. The vicissitudes of life Ngūgī and his family faced in Kenya during the 1940’s will encourage you to keep fighting to achieve any personal goals or dreams you have. It’s wonderfully inspiring.

I feel like I’m a member of Ngūgī’s family now that I’ve read this! The only problem I had with this book was that there were too many different names to keep up with. Try and read this book in a couple of days in order to keep track of all the names mentioned. If you haven’t read any of this great novelist’s books yet, this could be a great place to start. I absolutely recommend this. Please pick it up if you can!

 ★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

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Purchase Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir on Amazon