A recent poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Service (BBC) among “writers, critics and academics” yielded the verdict that Chinua Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart, published in June 1958 – which turns 60 this year – qualifies as No 5 on the list of “ten top stories that shaped the world.”
Other works on the list are: The Odyssey by Homer (8th Century BC), Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1952), Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818), Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949), One Thousand And One Nights by Various Authors (8th – 18th Century), Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605 – 1615), Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1603), One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967) and The Iliad by Homer (8th Century BC)
In a recent release, the BBC said that the writers, critics and academics who participated in the opinion poll voted these works “as the most influential and enduring works of fiction” ever published.
Telling the story of the colonisation of a Nigerian tribe from the point of view of an African, Things Fall Apart exploded stereotypes about Africa and brought to life the true impact of cross-cultural misunderstandings. Achebe said that “this was the first time we were seeing ourselves, as autonomous individuals, rather than half-people, or as Conrad would say, ‘rudimentary souls’” – many of those who responded to our poll agreed, and it reached number five.
“Published within my lifetime, it has been possible to see the effect of a single work of fiction in offering a radically different ‘view of Africa’,” says the novelist Beverley Naidoo. “The European colonial narrative could never be the same after this first work by Achebe was published.”
It’s “an empowering African novel: it brought African experience to the world like no other African fiction has,” according to Dominica Dipio, Associate Professor of Literature at Makerere University in Uganda. Noun Fare, a novelist and journalist from Togo, calls Chinua Achebe’s 1959 novel “a milestone in African literature. It has come to be seen as the archetypal modern African novel in English, and is read in Nigeria and throughout Africa.”
By changing the filter through which the continent was seen, Things Fall Apart could help combat prejudices. “The novel showed readers what an African world looked like when it was not being reduced to canned images animated by racist assumptions,” says Ainehi Edoro-Glines, a Nigerian academic. “Achebe’s innovation was to change the conventions of modern storytelling so that instead of seeing darkness any time readers looked at Africa, they’d see what every novel was designed to show – a complex representation of life.”
(Credit: Howard Timberlake)