REVIEW | No Longer At Ease

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In 2018 we mark the diamond jubilee of the the 1958 novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. This novel was read widely in South Africa as a school set-work. Mphuthumi Ntabeni takes a look at another of Achebe's works, No Longer At Ease. He says that this is a great companion work and continuation of Things Fall Apart.  “It introduces complexity into the story of how colonialism and Christianity break African culture with tragic and progressive consequences,” Ntabeni writes.

No Longer At Ease, by Chinua Achebe: Penguin Books, 1994, ISBN 9780385474559

This year marks the Diamond anniversary of the publication of the 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe,  probably the most popular book by an African writer. The Achebe Foundation and publishers, Penguin/Random House, have planned glamourous global events with activities ranging from symposia to a children's carnival and a writing competition, and stage presentations of Things Fall Apart, as well as a grand finale with a night of tributes. In Nigeria, the activities above will be held in Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, and Sokoto with the grand finale at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

The 60th anniversary will take place in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and nine other African countries including South Africa, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Togo, Uganda, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Togo between February and December 2018. Past fellows of the Ebedi International Writers Residency will help organise events in the other African countries.

In Things Fall Apart Achebe's main concern is the pre- and post-colonial life in late-19th century Nigeria. First published in 1958 by William Heinemann Ltd in the U.K., in 1962 it was also  published as the first book of Heinemann's African Writers Series that was edited by Achebe – it became a staple book in schools throughout Africa, and is widely read and studied in English-speaking countries around the world. The book's title comes from a line in W. B. Yeats' poem “The Second Coming”.

The Achebe Foundation has also called for abstract submissions, not exceeding 200 words, on any of these sub-themes to be sent to ThingsFallApart60@yahoo.com and copied to waleokediran@yahoo.co.uk.:

  • Conflict Generation and Resolution in Achebe's Things Fall Apart
  • African Literature after Achebe's Things Fall Apart,
  • The Achebe Spirit in the Emergence of Modern African Literature,
  • Managing Changes and Transitions in a Pluralized Society: Achebe's Things Fall Apart in Reference,
  • Africa at the Crossroads of Development and Good Governance: What Has Literature Got To Do With It?
  • Traditionalism versus modernism in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart,
  • Sexualities and subjectivities: Women in Achebe's Novels,
  • Imagining a New Africa: The Rhetoric of Transformation in Literature and Oratory,
  • The Dialectics and Symbolism of Things Fall Apart,
  • Prophesy and Poetry in the works of Chinua Achebe,
  • Culture, Nationalism and the African Writer,
  • Literary Influences, Impacts and Imitations across Generations.

I thought it an opportune time for me to read the one book I have not read from Achebe’s oeuvre, No Longer At Ease (1960). After all Achebe said No Longer at Ease was originally written as the second part of a larger work along with Arrow of God (1964), and that his two later novels A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987), while not featuring Okonkwo's descendants, are spiritual successors to the previous novels in chronicling African history.

No Longer At Ease, whose title is also from a poem by the English poet, T.S. Elliot, has all the typical Achebe topics, some of which are left in the above derivatives, like the clash of Christianity and western civilisation with African spirituality and culture. But it is probably the most pertinent among Achebe’s books for our time since it also tackles issues of immigrants, African government corruption, and the dislocation of foreign-educated Africans when they come back home.

The book narrates the story of Obi Okonkwo – the grandson of Okonkwo who is the main character in Things Fall Apart – who returns to Nigeria in the 1950s, after studying for a BA in English, and to appear more sophisticated, allows his friends, uneasily, to refer to it as a 'degree in Classics'. He, equally uneasily, finds himself as part of the ruling elite. He experiences money pressures – most of what today is referred to as 'Black Tax' – from parents, village people, his fiancé, and his student loan payment to his tribal organisation that paid for his studies in England, and all see him slowly succumb into taking bribes in his government post to augment his income. The book is a nuanced exposition of this, and his internal moral outrage at himself, and against the corrupt system and outdated traditions he feels helpless in resisting. It also teases out topics of British colonialism and cultural imperialism. Most interesting, however, is how it quietly interrogates the hypocrisy of even staunch African Christians who are still unable to rid themselves of extant African superstitions in their supermarket Christianity. Things come to a head, for instance, when he is refused by his supposedly Christian parents, educated friends and traditional villagers from marrying a woman of his choice because she belongs to the osu caste. His Ibo culture regards marrying an osu as anathema.

Achebe has always been a brilliant topical writer, even if in our era his books show an element of datedness, making it a little difficult to read with enthusiasm sometimes. I've never, for instance, been the fan of his overuse of African/Ibo proverbs in his writing – sometimes they clank in the ear because they don’t always organically fit with the development of the story, which gives them a sound of showiness. That said, the book is still very relevant, especially because it tackles, in seed, topics, both the educated and uneducated Africans still grapple with today.

No Longer At Ease is a great companion and continuation of the story begun in the book, Things Fall Apart. It introduces complexity into the story of how colonialism and Christianity break African culture with tragic and progressive consequences. I think it would work best also were one to read the book with Achebe’s collection of essays entitled, Home and Exile, because many topics that are insinuated on the story are further expounded on in his essays.

Image: Barnes & Noble


© Spotlight.Africa 2018

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REVIEW | No Longer At Ease