I don’t know why it’s been so hard to write on this book. Yet, it’s been a very easy read. I guess this book raises that many questions.
Obi Okwonko is the grandson of Okwonko from ‘Things fall apart’ by the same author. The times his grandfather was fighting against are gone, and now, receiving a ‘white’ education and working for the ‘white’ is like a privilege to the Nigerians, and even so for the Ibo tribe back in the village as well as for those who have managed to come to the capital city of Lagos.
Obi Okwonko seems to have everything a young Nigerian could have: a good family, a good education, brains, obviously, a pretty girlfriend, a good job at the government office, and respect and admiration from ‘his’ people. However, all this good fortune disappears in front of his daily worries: he has to pay back the loan for his education, his girlfriend does not come from a good family, he is in constant temptation of bribery, he somehow always seems to need money, and he has to answer to his family and the people of his tribe.
He struggles to achieve the status everyone dreamed he would, and to achieve the dream of everyone else, yet he struggles, alone, on that cloud that is the dream, not knowing where to go between tradition, the ‘white’ world or ‘in-between’, where most people seem to be, living off well at-ease in corruption.
Among the many questions, one remains quite puzzling, which I guess could answer all the other questions following suit.
How would one define the author, Chinua Achebe?
It seems that his background, that he was educated abroad, among the ‘whites’ that is, and had the similar privileges as, perhaps, Obi Okwonko, would have to do a lot with how he writes his novels and how he places the different characters, especially in this one.
While I had imagined a lot of controversies and especially a lot of opposition and criticism towards colonialism, it seems that both of his novels do not demonstrate that much hatred. It’s rather a feeling of ‘giving up’, or ‘going with the flow’, which is quite saddening, even more so than if many people had died while protesting against the white colonial rulers.
While on the one hand, such approach may place him as a proponent for colonialism and ‘white rule’, I guess that by calmly showing the bribery and distorted traditions after colonial rule, as well as the many divisions, and a certain root within tradition, he manages on the other hand to show the true face of colonialism.
Another interesting character is that of william Green, the ‘white’ boss of Obi at the office. He is first portrayed as a ‘typical white’ boss, looking down on the Nigerians, and acting as the white colonial ruler trying to civilize the ‘uncivilized’. Yet, according to his secretary, he pays for the education of his ‘black’ domestic worker, and is not ‘all that bad’. He is fairly critical of the corruption going around most Nigerians who are in the office. Nevertheless, in the end, Green is the ‘patriarch white’ after all. To him, Nigerians are like children who cannot fend for themselves and who need guidance, especially guidance from the superior whites. Unfortunately, like most people at that time, and even now, he is unaware of such feelings and I’m sure he believes of the good faith he has for the country that is Nigeria.
All in all, Chinua Achebe’s two books are quite easy reads in terms of the English language, but they do give you a lot to think about, especially because the remains of colonialism remain, unfortunately, in many corners of the world. They make you want to read more of his work and go deeper in his thoughts and beliefs.