Chinua Achebe, who has died at the age of 82, was more than a novelist. He was a total man of letters, who wrote poetry and essays and oversaw a trailblazing series of books by African writers. But he will probably always be most famous for his career-making, legacy-defining debut novel, Things Fall Apart, which tells the story of Okonkwo, an Igbo man who kills a white colonialist in the 1890s, and who, at the end of the book, hangs himself rather than be tried for that murder.
The book was informed by European literature—the title comes from a poem by William Butler Yeats—but tells an African story from an African perspective. Achebe explained many times that his novel was partly a rebuke to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a book that reduced “Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind,” as he argued in a famous essay, “An Image of Africa.” Conrad was “undoubtedly one of the great stylists of modern fiction and a good storyteller into the bargain,” Achebe wrote, but he was also, Achebe said, “a thoroughgoing racist.”
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