Few years ago, I curiously asked my friend who uses “Okonkwo” for his chatting name. It sounds weird but I thought it means something in Nigerian, my friend’s nationality. He told me to seek for this book. Although I had tried Amazon so many times, I was fortunate to find the republished copy just late last year.
The cover of this book looks intimidating, with a face of a man, dark, clean shaved, looking proud yet sad. The embossed pattern made the man looks shattered, or cracked. I think the cover is beautifully done and represents the story well.
Okonkwo, the wrestling champion and the best warrior from Umuofia, is whatever his father was not. Obviously, he despises his father who left the world with no title, no land, nothing but heavy debts. At young age, Okonkwo has gained popularity, honor and what would be his first fortune. Okonkwo is a chauvinist with fiery temper who prefers solving problem with fists or machete. To Okonkwo, to call himself a man, a male person should be like him.
The book is divided into three parts. The highlight of the first part is Ikemefuna’s death in which Okonkwo took a heartless role. Although the boy was a captive, he lived in Okonkwo’s household and like a brother to his own children. Ikemefuna even called Okonkwo “my father”. When the village decided to kill him, despite the Elder’s request, it was Okonkwo who slashed the machete to prove that he’s not a weak person.
The second part told stories during Okonkwo’s life at Mbana, his mother’s village. Okonkwo had accidentally killed a clansman and, as the rule, he must take his family away from Umuofia for 7 years. This situation broke his pride and his spirit immediately for Okonkwo always desires to be the highly respected one within his own clan. He threw the depression mostly to his first son, who’s never man enough for him.
Things changed dramatically with the arrival of missionaries and the “white people” behind it; holy mission used as camouflage for intervention and dominance. Material gods are replaced with Holy Trinity, village ukuwawa is replaced by District Court, government system and marketplace are created. This is supposed to be the start of civilization, yet the original owners of the land suffer from harassment and humiliation. The situation tragically closed Okonkwo’s life.
One word to describe the whole book: ironic. Okonkwo is not exactly a charming person, but stripping off his pride and beliefs using disgrace and insistence is plain criminal, especially because Okonkwo and his clansmen only know that they have to defend whatever they have.
Written back in 1958, this book is a classic read for any age. The story is beautifully written, the words are polite, clear, and straight to the point. It leaves the feeling that the author is a simple and very intelligent person. Just one thing was left unexplained. The time when Okonkwo’s daughter, Ezinma, was taken by the Priestess Agbala the whole night, what was that for?
Added 30/07 – This book is part of “The African Trilogy”. The following two books are: “No Longer at Ease” 1960 and “Arrow of God” 1964.