Thursday, January 31, 2008
Black History Month 2008: Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.
Random House celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Things Fall Apart. Chinua Achebe was my introduction to African writers. This is one story of how Europeans came to Africa and intruded into the cultural, spiritual and economic lives of black Africans. Things Fall Apart is a fictional work based in history.
Through Achebe’s writing, you see the oppression, manipulation and dominance of the Europeans over the Africans. For this dominance to take hold, there had to be Africans who were ready to betray their own people for financial and political gains. A lot of this was done through white Christian missionaries and British military.
European education was held out like a carrot, to entice African families to turn their sons over to the Europeans for “education.” This caused many great divides between fathers and sons, weakening the strong family unit.
First published in England in 1958, Things Fall Apart tells the story of a Igbo (EE_BO) village in Nigeria and of the tragic figure Okonkwo, a man of great wealth and popularity, yet fearful of appearing weak. This is a story of a clash of cultures, where old customs are replaced with new and unfamiliar customs and things only get worse.
This is the story of colonialism through the eyes of a son of Africa. Through Okonkwo we step back in time to the arrival of Europeans on African shores. And things do not only fall apart, they get progressively worse. If you want to understand modern day Africa, this is where you begin.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Richard Wright’s Unfinished Novel
A Father’s Law, by Richard Wright
In honor of the year-long centennial celebration of Richard Wright’s birthday in 1908, Harper Collins has just released his previously unpublished final work A Father’s Law. The draft of this manuscript was discovered by his daughter Julia when collecting his personal effects at the time of his death in 1960.
A Father’s Law is a radical departure for Wright. It is a who-dunnit, with CSI overtones. Surprisingly, Wright shows a knack for writing psyschological studies of human behavior. Written in the six weeks before his death, the writing is not as tight and precise as his previously published novels.
Wright set his story in the suburbs of Chicago with the promotion of black police officer Ruddy Turner to Chief of Police of the affluent suburb of Brentwood Park. Turner is an upright defender of the law, a Republican and a Catholic, a different sort of black man than Wright’s usual characters. He is married with a son Tommy, with whom he has a strained relationship.
A series of murders in Brentwood Park and the psychological tension between Ruddy and Tommy make for interesting insights into the lives of middle class parents who give their children material comforts, but fail to make human connections.
Ruddy feels inadequate when his son, who is studying sociology, offers scientific techniques in crime-solving. He begins to wonder if his own son is a criminal genius and has committed the murders in Brentwood Park. Wright thoroughly explores the divide between working-class parents and their more educated children. Ruddy has “made it,” but the rewards are fragile and vulnerable. He has to juggle his blackness with just-the-right amount of humility and adherence to the white norms that surround him.
This is by no means a psychological thriller and it reflects the absence of Wright’s final attention. It is however a celebration of a great American writer whose contribution to the literary canon is priceless and eduring.