Achebe’s Things Fall Apart Named Greatest Book Ever Written

Chinua Achebe, who was described by Nelson Mandela as the writer in whose company the prison walls fell down, still commands influence in his death.

Born Albert Chinụalụmọgụ Achebe (16 November 1930 – 21 March 2013) in Ogidi village, Anambra State, in southeastern Nigeria, he was a renown novelist, poet, professor, and critic. Although his plethora of great books, essays, poems and short stories made their mark in the literary scene in Nigeria—and the world at large—his first novel, Things Fall Apart, still resonates far and wide. According to a recent list compiled by Encyclopaedia Brittanica, the masterpiece is considered to be one of the 12 greatest books ever written.

Prolific novelist, Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart (1958) chronicles pre-colonial Nigeria and the arrival of the Europeans during the late nineteenth century through the life of the protagonist, Okonkwo, a respected leader and local wrestling champion in the fictional Nigerian village of Umuofia. Okonkwo lives among the tribe of Igbo people, where among other things, he battles his fear of becoming his father—a man known for his laziness and cowardice.

The acclaimed Nigerian novelist was known for his unsentimental depictions of the social and psychological disorientation accompanying the imposition of Western customs and values upon traditional African society, a characteristic which features heavily in his book. The book now exists in 57 translations across the world.

Credit: Penguin Books

The novel joins other great literary works on the list including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird,  Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

And the honour comes just months after the 60th anniversary of the publication of the novel and the release of a new edition of the classic novel with cover artwork by Nigerian artist Victor Ekpuk known for channeling Nsibidi philosophy in his work.

About the book’s inclusion into the greatest books ever written, Jonathan Hogeback, who compiled the list, said, “The Western canon of great literature often focuses on writers who come from North America or Europe and often ignores amazing works of literature from other parts of the world. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, is one such work of African literature that had to overcome the bias of some literary circles and one that has been able to gain recognition worldwide despite it.”