The 56-year-old novel continues to garner accolades
By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Chinua Achebe’s classic novel, Things Fall Apart, has been named amongst the 100 books that must be read in a lifetime by Amazon.
Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, recently released the list of essential books everyone must read before dying, and Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe made the elite list with his celebrated first novel, Things Fall Apart.
The list was compiled by Amazon Books editorial team, and contains a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books.
The oldest book on the list, which spans decades, is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, which was published in 1813. The most recently published book on the list is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, released in 2013.
The Amazon Books editorial team plans to audit the list regularly in order to ensure it always stays culturally relevant.
“We listed the books alphabetically by title because our assumption is that no book is more important than another,” said Sara Nelson, Editorial Director of Print and Kindle Books at Amazon.com.
Things Fall Apart was published in 1958, when Achebe was barely 28 years old. It is considered by critics and book lovers to be the single most important piece of literature out of Africa. The 50th anniversary of the 200-odd page novel was celebrated all over the world in 2008 with festivals, readings, symposia, concerts etc. The novel which has been likened to epic Greek tragedies has been translated to more than 50 languages and has sold over 10 million copies. It is taught not just in literature classes but in history and anthropology departments in colleges and universities across the globe. The archetypal theme of the meeting of the white and black races makes Things Fall Apart an epochal event in the annals of world literature.
The book tells the deceptively simple story of Okonkwo, a “strong man” whose life is dominated by the fear of failure. As a teenager he brought honour to his village by throwing the hitherto unbeatable Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match. His fame spread through the nine villages of Umuofia and even beyond like harmattan bushfire, but he remained troubled that his father Unoka was a debtor and a failure. As if to compound matters, Okonkwo notices weakness in his own son, Nwoye, and he comes to the sad conclusion that raging fire only ends up as impotent ash.
The book works at several levels, and can be read at any age from 10 to 100. As a child, one can enjoy incidents such as the match with Amalinze the Cat, Unoka’s dismissal of his creditor, Okonkwo’s attempted shooting of one of his wives, the visitation of the masked spirits etc. Later in life the many ironies in the book come into play such as the joke on the District Commissioner thinking that Okonkwo’s story can only end up as a paragraph in his planned book, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, without knowing that one Mr. Achebe had taken the thunder from him by giving Okonkwo an entire book in which the story is narrated from inside!
It is not for nothing that Mr. Achebe has been celebrated as the father of African literature. He changed the perspective of world literature from the gaudy picture of Africa as painted by Europeans such as Joseph Conrad, Joyce Cary and Rider Haggard to the authentic telling of the tale by the Africans. Unlike earlier African writers like Guinea’s Camara Laye, author of The African Child, who painted a romantic picture of the continent, Mr. Achebe is relentlessly objective in his narration, telling it as it is, warts and all.
It is because of the remarkable success of Things Fall Apart that the publishers Heinemann UK launched the African Writers Series, AWS, in 1962 with Achebe’s first novel as its first title. For many years Mr. Achebe served as a non-remunerated Editorial Adviser of the series in which several African writers got their breakthrough in publishing.
Things Fall Apart reputedly accounted for 80 per cent of the entire revenue of the AWS.
Nelson Mandela famously called Mr. Achebe “the writer in whose hands the prison walls came crashing down.”
Former American President, Jimmy Carter, numbers Mr. Achebe as one of his favourite writers.
The rave reviews for Achebe’s most famous novel have somewhat dwarfed his other novels such as No Longer at Ease (1960), Arrow of God (1964), A Man of the People (1966) and Anthills of the Savannah (1987).
Mr. Achebe recently won the Man Booker Prize for his lifetime achievement in fiction writing, beating a formidable shortlist that included Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Ian McEwan etc. He equally won as the first African, the American National Arts Club Medal of Honour for Literature in November 2007.
Things Fall Apart has earned its uncommon distinction as a modern classic and was in 1992 adopted into the esteemed Everyman’s Library of world classics. The Igbo world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries which Achebe limned in Things Fall Apart has become the global picture of Africa writ large. At the turn of the 20th century the book was voted as Africa’s “novel of the century.”
Chinua Achebe died at exactly 11:51pm (US time), that is 4.51am (Nigerian time), on Thursday, March 21, 2013 at the Harvard University Teaching Hospital, Massachusetts, USA, aged 82. He was buried on Thursday, May 23, 2013 in his native Ogidi, Anambra State with President Goodluck Jonathan and Ghanaian President, John Mahama, in attendance. Tributes came from all over the world.
“Achebe bestrides generations and geographies. Every country in Africa claims him as their own,” Mr. Achebe’s distinguished colleague, the Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, said.
American President, Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle said, “A revolutionary author, educator, and cultural ambassador, Chinua shattered the conventions of literature and shaped the collective identity of Nigerians throughout the world. With a dream of taking on misperceptions of his homeland, he gave voice to perspectives that cultivated understanding and drew our world closer together. His legacy will endure in the hearts of all whose lives he touched with the everlasting power of his art.”
The Full Amazon List of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime
1. 1984 by George Orwell
2. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
3. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
4. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
5. A Series of Unfortunate Events #1: The Bad Beginning: The Short-Lived Edition by Lemony Snicket
6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
7. Alice Munro: Selected Stories by Alice Munro
8. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
9. All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
10. Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt
11. Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret by Judy Blume
12. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
13. Beloved by Toni Morrison
14. Born To Run – A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
15. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
16. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
17. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
18. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
19. Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
20. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown
21. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Book 1 by Jeff Kinney
22. Dune by Frank Herbert
23. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
24. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter S. Thompson
25. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
26. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
27. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
28. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared M. Diamond
29. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
30. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
31. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
32. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
33. Jimmy Corrigan: Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
34. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
35. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
36. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
37. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
38. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
39. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
40. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
41. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
42. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
43. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
44. Moneyball by Michael Lewis
45. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
46. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
47. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
48. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
49. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
50. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
51. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
52. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
53. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
54. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
55. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
56. The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
57. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
58. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
59. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
60. The Color of Water by James McBride
61. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
62. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
63. The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
64. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
65. The Giver by Lois Lowry
66. The Golden Compass: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
67. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
68. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
69. The House At Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
70. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
71. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
72. The Liars’ Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr
73. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan
74. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
75. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
76. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
77. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
78. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks
79. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
80. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
81. The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
82. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
83. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
84. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
85. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
86. The Shining by Stephen King
87. The Stranger by Albert Camus
88. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
89. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
90. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
91. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
92. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki Murakami
93. The World According to Garp by John Irving
94. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
95. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
96. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
97. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
98. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
99. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
100. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak