Archive for February, 2009

What an interesting choice of book Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart turned out to be. 

For our relatively new group, this was the  oldest book we’ve read so far:  it’s just over 50 years old. I wonder if, as a group, we would have felt very differently about it had we read it collectively before our first ever choice. This was Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, which is set in the same part of Nigeria but, of course, much more recently. I say this because during the discussion we referred back to the Adichie work so many times. Comparisons, although perhaps unfair, seemed almost inevitable.

I think it’s fair to say that for today’s reader Achebe’s book was harder work!  Perhaps (but not only) because the characters in Half of a Yellow Sun seem so westernised, most of us were able to identify with them very easily.  The almost symbolic main character of the warrior Okonkwo, with his heroism and tragic flaws, was tougher for many of us to even imagine. The matter-of-fact descriptions of the tribe’s culture and its brutality towards women and some children also made for a difficult read. Not everyone made it to the end!  I personally wanted to know a bit more about the relationship between the second wife Ekwefi and her longed-for daughter Ezinma. I did wonder what Achebe was trying to say about the culture of the tribes before the arrival of the white missionaries – if he was aiming to portray the dignity of the old tribal culture, in opposition to the kind of stereotype in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, did he achieve this?

We know from what Chimamanda Adichie has said in interviews that she is a great admirer of Achebe. I loved the way this book ended, with the terrible realisation that the white missionary was to write an undoubtedly patronising account of the tribal cultures.  At the end of Adichie’s book, the reader is surprised to learn that it’s Ugwu the houseboy who is writing an account of the Biafran troubles – in her book, the white man concedes that it is not his story to tell. A tribute to Achebe perhaps, and one which brings great optimism.

We wondered why Achebe chose to write in English and use such a western form as the novel – and also why he used a line from a Yeats poem as his title, rather than something from an African writer. Perhaps this is something that we’ll unearth from reading more about the author.  One aspect of the book we loved was the use of animal fables, such as the story of the tortoise shell.

I should point out that one or two members had in fact read it before and felt differently about it on a second reading. One person who’d read it twenty years ago and felt, then, that it was wonderful, now found it too dated in style. Another person was frustrated with it on a first reading, because in so many ways it doesn’t work as a novel in the way we expect.  On her second reading, however, she saw it as much more of a fable and enjoyed it much more on that level.

To add to the list of great things about the book group: someone always tells you something you didn’t know.  It was really interesting to learn that it was down to a group of Scottish writers who campaigned hard that this work was first brought to the attention of the publishers in the 1950s. It was also nice to get a look at some of the other, older editions of the book that some readers have. One was part of an Achebe trilogy and I think some of us are tempted to read more of him. Another had a beautiful cover. Both of these older editions were blessed with a glossary – I really could have used one of the those! But sadly no one could tell me exactly what foo-foo is.

Kim’s shop sold its last copy of next month’s book, Ross Raisin’s God’s Own Country (although she’s ordered more in). With this book, we will venture into more alien territory – Yorkshire.  This book’s won all sorts of plaudits, but I wonder how well it will go down with our group?  Watch this space!
Barbara

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February reminder!

Just a quick note to remind everyone that the next meeting of the book group is on Tuesday 24th February – usual time and place (6.30pm at Doolally’s on Marygate, for any new members!).
Hope everyone’s enjoyed reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I’m definitely looking forward to finding out what everyone thought about it.
Also – for anyone who hasn’t checked into the bookshop lately – Kim has got the Ross Raisin book God’s Own Country in stock. (That’s March’s choice, if you want to get a head start on it!). Remember you can get 5% off if you’ve registered as a book group member.
Looking forward to a civilised evening of tea, cakes and superb discussion!
Barbara


About the book group

The Berwick Book Group meets on the first Tuesday of every month at the First Class Passenger Lounge on the platform of Berwick Train Station at 6.30pm.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-berwick-book-group.

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