This has always been on a vague list of ‘I should read this sometime’ books. I knew it as a classic, and I knew a very little about the setting, but mostly I just knew that it was famous as a post-colonial novel from the African continent. Well, there was a challenge on Habitica related to John Green’s Crash Course videos, I spotted it while browsing the Kobo store, and… decided it was about time I fixed my ignorance on this front.
Reading reviews of this book on sites like Goodreads may be rage inducing, by the way. Just a warning. Of course it’s not perfect, but I can’t think of a book that everyone would agree is perfect. It’s important, which is different; it means a lot to a lot of people, and it reflects on things which happened in Nigeria both at the time the book was set, and at the time the book was written. It’s a hybrid of Nigerian and “Western” storytelling; even the title alludes to Western literature, so if you didn’t get that clue, you might be a little puzzled.
I don’t think it’s even trying to be authentically an Igbo story, a kind of non-fiction novel. The story is based in real events, but of course the literary flourishes are here — hubris, hamartia, heck, even ‘daddy issues’. It’s a reflection on a lost world, a world that’s being lost even during the story; it’s not looking back with rose-tinted regret or forward with optimism, but placing the two societies side by side and watching them affect one another. Watching how they critique each other, their incompatibilities, the appeal for people from each side to cross over.
The simple, sometimes colloquial storytelling style is a purposeful, literary device; it’s a simplified version, almost a fable, of a complex history.