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Saturday, March 05, 2016

Arrow of God (1964) by Chinua Achebe

The Igbo people live in the part of Nigeria called Biafra, scene of the terrible Nigerian civil war that ended with millions of Igbo casualities.
Book Review
Arrow of God (1964)
by Chinua Achebe

    Wrapping your head around 20th century century African history is a chore.  You've got the distinct historical periods of colonialism, independence and the present day.  You've got the different colonial overlords and most all of the African nations that emerged after independence were multi-ethnic, with the ethnic groups often coming from entirely different language groups.  Not to mention the radically different pre-colonial experiences, ranging from the well developed states of North Africa and Ethiopia, to the looser Arab influenced Caliphates of the Sahara, to the loosely affiliated mini polities of Central Africa.

   Chinua Achebe is the one Igbo most Westerners know, and Arrow of God is the third book in his so-called Africa trilogy about the experience of the Igbo under English colonialism.  As in Things Fall Apart, Achebe depicts a reality that is far from the "primitive African tribes" rubric of Western stereotype.  True, the Igbo weren't organized into a sophisticated polity prior to English colonization, but they were anything but "primitive African tribes."  Rather, they existed in a sophisticated web of "traditional values," of the sort we often glorify in the early 21st century.  In Arrow of God, Achebe writes about quasi-democratic political traditions which are balanced against the power of traditional deities, embodied in the main character of Arrow of God,  Ezelulu, the village priest in a small Igbo village.

   Ezelulu has a complicated relationship with English power, and the major theme of Arrow of God is this relationship and it's impact on Ezeulu's family and village. Achebe successfully destroys the rude stereotypes that persist in the west about African village life, and it is no wonder that he is firmly ensconced in the 20th century canon as any author.

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