Great Books: No Longer At Ease, by Chinua Achebe

This is the last of Chinua Achebe's works on the list. He is the first author with multiple works who I can now cross off as 'completed'. So it seems an appropriate moment to pause and evaluate.

Achebe is not just on one list - he's on a LOT of lists. Nine different 'great books' lists that go into the mega-list chose one or another of his works. Things Fall Apart is an impressive #2, second to Don Quixote, on the 100 most meaningful books of all time, compiled by surveying 100 well-known authors from around the world. Chinua Achebe isn't just a great author, he's an author's author. He's like Fred Astaire. He makes it look easy.

I never would have encountered his work if I hadn't started on this project. And I am so, so glad I discovered him. His work is lyrical and poignant. He conveys the native African voice in an authentic fashion, something rarely present in my GenWestEuropean cultural soup. I think Things Fall Apart was the best of his works that I read, but No Longer At Ease comes in a close second.

TFA told the slow downward curve of Okwanko, an important man among the Umuofia, at a time when the white man was just arriving. The demise of the traditional way of life provided an uneasy subtext for his downhill slide. No Longer At Ease tells the story of Okwanko's grandson in the 1950's, a 'modern', educated African who comes back from England determined to do things the right way. In trying to find a path between the traditional ways and his new modern sensibilities, he trips and falls. He hurts someone else, badly, and just as in Things Fall Apart, that proves an irredeemable sin. He has wounded himself. All his brave resolutions dribble out of him like water.

As the book begins, when we are introduced to Obi Okwanko, his fate is already sealed. He has been convicted of accepting a bribe and is being sentenced. There's no suspense here. It's a sad dissection of the way things have gone wrong, and a not subtle, but insightful, commentary on modern Africa.

Even if none of these rest of these books I'm reading were worth a damn, Chinua Achebe would have already made the project worthwhile. Thank you, sir.

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