Thing Fall Apart Turns 50
Classic novel Things Fall Apart celebrates a milestone as it turns 50 years old this year. The book’s 78-year-old author was recently commemorated for this achievement with a literary gala at the PEN American Center on February 26th. The event was sponsored by Anchor Books and Bard College. Those who attended included fellow stars Toni Morrison, Ha Jin and Colum McCann. Also marking the event is the release of a commemorative 50th-anniversary edition of the novel, which was also Achebe’s debut work. Last year, Achebe won the 2007 Man Booker International Prize honoring his entire body of work including novels, critical essays, poetry, short stories, children’s books and African short story anthologies.
Since its first publication, Things Fall Apart has been translated into over 30 languages and sold more than 10 million copies. Achebe was born in Ogidi, Nigeria. His father was a missionary, and he was a gifted student. Achebe graduated from the University College of Ibadan in 1953 and became a radio producer at the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation before moving to London to work for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
His novel was written, he says, to “comment on the abandonment of traditional culture.” The story is about a Nigerian tribe set around 1900 and the downfall of tradition and those who try to preserve it, including respected tribe member Okonkwo, who serves as the story’s protagonist. The change that contributes to this downfall is accredited to the British missionaries who impose their Christian values and religion onto the tribe members. Achebe consciously depicted a tribe of intelligent and humanly behaved African characters so unlike those found in stories such as Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. He paid close attention to language and dialogue, making it a universally understood read. The book is taught in most high schools and colleges and proves that the events of a small African tribe have the power to teach a moral lesson to the entire world.
Today, Achebe lives comfortably though in exile in a cottage on the Bard College campus in New York. He has been there since 1990 after being paralyzed from the waist down due to a car accident in Nigeria. Achebe also teaches as a language and literature professor, though he has not written a finished novel in over 20 years. He is writing though he does not plan to publish in this country. One project is a collection of autobiographical essays commenting on his life and work. Another is a translation of Things Fall Apart translated into Igbo, the language spoken by the characters in the book.