Dan Sandman

10: No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe

In Books, Fiction on 07/03/2014 at 12:00 pm

No Longer at Ease by Chinua AchebeThe  third book of Chinua Achebe’s African trilogy is the most easily accessible of the series. It’s a short novel set in the 1950’s that takes place in Nigeria before the country gained independence in 1960. As in the two previous novels, the story is focused on a strong male character who is torn between two opposing ideological and religious forces. Obi Okonkwo suffers a conflict between his African roots, his Christian beliefs and his British university education. The resulting drama is a thought provoking critique, firmly rooted in a strong knowledge base of the subject material, and written with an unsentimental grace.

In the first book of the trilogy Things Fall Apart, set in the 1890’s – just as the colonialists and missionaries are busy overtaking and converting the whole of West Africa – our hero’s way of life and religion were uprooted with tragic consequences. In the second book Arrow of God, set in the 1920’s, the protagonist’s position as chief priest was undermined by similar governing forces. And in this third book, the naive Obi must learn to balance three element of his identity – African, Christian and educated – or be rejected by his family, tempted by immorality, and corrupted by money. His failure to resolve internal conflict and his reaction to external pressure, portray him as a tragically flawed character and a victim of a complex society.

Whilst the African trilogy is critical of post-colonial Nigerian society, it celebrates the proverbial wisdom of Africans present before colonisation. In a similar literary fashion, Achebe references a wide variety of different sources; drawing – in No Longer At Ease – from bible quotes, African song lyrics, the poetry of T.S Eliot, and the novels of Graham Greene. This broad knowledge base provides a provocative background for the scenes and actions within the novel. Therefore, the reader feels enlightened and educated, further enhancing the power of the story.

Having completed the African trilogy, I have been given much food for thought. All three books have been purchased – because if a book’s worth reading, then a book’s worth buying – and will be permanently displayed on my alphabetically ordered bookshelf. This literary journey begun with my personal trips South Africa in April 2011 and November 2012, and arguably much before those trips, at university where I studied post-colonial literature. It has resulted in a deeper understanding of African history and the problems still faced in Africa today.

Things do fall apart, it’s funny how we rarely change who we are, but we do one thing and another thing.

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