Wow. I've had this Chinua Achebe's first novel on my TBR list for a couple of years, but when several people insisted that it must be included in a World Literature class, I decided I really needed to read it right away. This is another one of those astounding books, like James Agee's A Death in the Family (my review here), that I have to wonder: why did I never encounter this in any literature class—high school, college, or graduate school?
The novel centers on Okonkwo, an Ibo man in pre-colonial Nigeria. Okonkwo strives to be a successful man in his tribe, hard-working, well-respected, and unrelenting. He has no sympathy for weakness and fiercely upholds all tribal laws and traditions.
In matter-of-face prose, Achebe reveals tribal life in this Ibo village and Okonkwo's determination to maintain his sense of dignity and manhood in the face of whatever comes his way. From his exile to his son's betrayal to the coming of the white missionaries, Okonkwo continues to insist that his way—the old tribal way—is the only right way and the only way for things to stay together.
This is a short novel, less than 200 pages, but full of images and characters that will stay with me for a long time. Combined with Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun (my review here), and Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, this would make a fantastic literature unit on Africa and the impact of colonization, tribal wars, and missionaries.