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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Thursday, 10 May 2018

"No Longer At Ease" by Chinua Achebe

This sequel to Things Fall Apart starts with Obi Okonkwo, grandson of the Okonkwo whose life made up the story of that book, on trial for having received a bribe. This book explains the pressures on a young man who has been funded by his village to get a University education in England; who, returning, discovers that he must pay back his scholarship, and pay towards his little brother's education and his mother's hospital bills, and car insurance, and income tax; and that he still cannot complain to people who salary is one tenth of his. Money troubles, and girlfriend troubles, turn his promising youth into a tragedy. As Obi, an English graduate, says: "I remember an old man in my village ... who suffers one calamity after another. He said life was like a bowl of wormwood which one sips a little at a time world without end. ... Real tragedy is never resolved. It goes on hopelessly for ever. Conventional tragedy is too easy. The hero dies and we feel a purging of the emotions." Perhaps this refers to the story of Africa itself. (Chapter 5)

Although Things Fall Apart is regard as Achebe's classic in many ways I preferred this book to the first. Perhaps this was because it had a more conventional plot. In the first book things happened. In this book things happen for a reason. Although in the first book it could be argued that the misfortunes piled onto the head of Okonkwo stemmed from his single impious act and that therefore the hero was responsible for his own misfortune, in this book Obi seems to have been cursed by fate. The badness that he does is almost forced upon him. But the chain of events in which tragedy leads inevitably to more tragedy  is more conventionally western.

At the same time Achebe produces an interesting portrait of Nigeria in the years just before independence. One could argue that this is a portrait of a society that has been irreparably damaged by the unintended consequences of colonialism. But that would be too simplistic. There is a clear clash between traditional and modern values but Achebe is careful to ensure that all opinions are put. For example, although it is clear that bribery is wrong and that Obi is noble (although naive) in his early stands against it, people accept bribery as part of the way of doing things, an essential for hard-pressed underpaid public servants, and somethings whose origins are African although some white men are beginning to take up the practice (perhaps it could be argued that they didn't need to before):
  • "I am against people reaping where they have not sown. But we have a saying that if you want to eat a toad you should look for a fat and juicy one." (Chapter 1)
  • "He should not have accepted the money himself. What others do is tell you to go and hand it to their houseboy." (Chapter 1)
  • Another, more modern, character suggests that bribery is acceptable providing that you don't change what you would have done when you accept the bribe (so you are in effect taking a bribe and cheating the briber).
People, Achebe seems to say, are essentially selfish:
    • "We are strangers in this land. If good comes to it may we have our share ... But if bad comes let it go to the owners of the land." (Chapter 1)
Although Clara is a strong portrait of a modern African woman the overall atmosphere is still heavily patriarchal and male-dominated.

There are some great descriptions:

  • "He wore her sadness round his neck like a necklace of stone." (Chapter 6)
  • "He had very bad teeth ... One was missing in front, and when he laughed the gap looked like a vacant plot in a slum." (Chapter 7)
  • "There was always a part of him, the thinking part, which seemed to stand outside it all watching the passionate embrace with cynical disdain. The result was that one half of Obi might kiss a girl and murmur 'I love you', but the other half would say: 'Don't be silly'." (Chapter 7)
There are lots of African sayings:

  • "He that fights for a ne'er-do-well has nothing to show for it except a head covered in earth and grime." (Chapter 1)
  • "We are not empty men who become white when they see white, and black when they see black." (Chapter 5)
  • "It is not right to ask a man with elephantiasis of the scrotum to take on smallpox as well, when thousands of other people have not had even their share of small diseases." (Chapter 10)
And other original perspectives:
  • Obi is on the boat coming home form England, He looks across the sea. "What a waste of water. A microscopic fraction of the Atlantic would turn the Sahara into a flourishing grassland. So much for the best of all possible worlds. Excess here and nothing at all there." (Chapter 3); Achebe has clearly read Voltaire's Candide.
  • "the government was 'they'. It had nothing to do with you and me. It was an alien institution and people's business was to get as much from it as they could without getting into trouble." (Chapter 4)
  • "One felt very brisk after a cold bath. As with weeping, it was only the beginning that was difficult."(Chapter 13)
  • "The impatient idealist says: 'Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth'. But such a place does not exist. We all have to stand on the earth itself and go with her at her pace." (Chapter 19)
Written in a very flat style, this book nevertheless develops some interesting characters and is a good read.

May 2018; 133 pages

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