Things Fall Apart
Fifty years after he published Things Fall Apart, his first novel, the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe recalls having modest hopes for the book. At the time, he was a young university graduate who had found a job at the Nigerian Broadcasting Company, in Lagos. “I was alone in my room, scribbling away, and if nobody had paid any attention at all to me, I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised,” Achebe recalls with a quiet chuckle, here in his home on the campus of Bard College.
Yet the towering achievement of Things Fall Apart has been to become arguably the most influential work of fiction by an African writer. Since William Heinemann Ltd. first issued it in London, the novel has sold about 11 million copies in some 50 countries and as many languages. (This month Anchor Books will issue a 50th-anniversary edition.) In the United States, in an era of multiculturalism, it has become a fixture on college and high-school reading lists — for Americans, the quintessential novel about Africa. The influential critic Harold Bloom included it in 1994 in his selection of the canonical works of world literature, along with two of Achebe’s later novels dealing with Nigeria’s transition through colonization to troubled independent nationhood, No Longer at Ease and Arrow of God.