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Obi Okonkwo, grandson of the protagonist in Things Fall Apart, is the pride of his Nigerian village, Umuofia.  The Ibo villagers pooled their money to send one native son off to England to be educated and Obi was chosen.  Now he has returned to a prestigious job with the civil service in Lagos--he's the Administrative Assistant to the Inspector of Schools.  He bears the burden of his people's expectations but his exposure to Western culture has distanced him from tribal life and though he is now earning a magnificent living by their standards, he has trouble making ends meet as he tries keeping up with the Joneses in the big city.  Borrowing money, he ends up "digging a new pit to fill up an old one."  Further complicating matters is his love affair with the lovely Clara, an osu, one of the socio-religious outcasts who also figured prominently in Things Fall Apart.

As financial and romantic pressures continue to mount and his beloved mother sickens and dies, Obi must also deal with temptation, offers of money and sex if he will use his position to assist scholarship applicants.  For as long as he can, Obi juggles all of these problems, but gradually they come crashing down on him.

More directly than almost any author I'm aware of, Chinua Achebe faces head on the issues which confront the developing nations in a post-Colonial world.  In No Longer At Ease, even as he pokes fun at the remaining English bureaucrats and their condescending ways, he honors their tradition of relatively honest civil service.  Meanwhile, he questions whether at least this first generation of natives who are replacing the departing Europeans are truly prepared to meet the same standards or whether a slide into corruption is nearly inevitable.

Obi is a decent enough man and he has the best of intentions, but he gets in way over his head, bringing tragedy down upon himself and disgrace to his village.  His situation, as portrayed by Achebe--caught between the traditions and expectations of his village on the one hand and the modern ways and legal constraints of the West on the other--puts him in an untenable position, one where something must give.  The title of the book comes from T. S. Eliots's The Journey of the Magi :

    We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
    But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
    With an alien people clutching their gods.
    I should be glad of another death.

Achebe offers a fully realized portrait of one of those returned who are "no longer at ease," aliens in their own country.  It's a terrific book.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Chinua Achebe (2 books reviewed)
Chinua Achebe Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Chinua Achebe
-INTERVIEW: Out of Africa: Chinua Achebe, father of modern African literature, has long argued that Joseph Conrad was a racist. (Caryl Phillips, February 22, 2003, The Guardian)
    -INTERVIEW: Chinua Achebe, The Art of Fiction No. 139 (Interviewed by Jerome Brooks, Winter 1994, Paris Review)

Book-related and General Links:

-Chinua Achebe (1930-) - in full Albert Chinualumogu Achebe (kirjasto)
    -STORY : The Sacrificial Egg (Chinua Achebe, Atlantic Monthly, April 1959)
    -INTERVIEW : Chinua Achebe: An African Voice (Atlantic Monthly, August 2, 2000)
    -LETTER:  THE CASE OF KEN SARO-WIWA (Apr 20, 1995 Chinua Achebe; G.F. Michelsen; Ben Okri; Harold Pinter; Norman Rush; Susan Sontag;  Robert Stone. NY Review of Books)
    -ESSAY:  Chinua Achebe: MANGO SEEDLING (May 22, 1969, NY Review of Books)
    -EXCERPT: Chinua Achebe   1930- (Survey of World Literature, 1992)
    -Chinua Achebe : An Overview (George Landow, Post Imperial and Post Colonial Literature in English,
    -ESSAY: Chinua Achebe and the Language of the Colonizer (Katharine Slattery)
    -REVIEW: of ANTHILLS OF THE SAVANNAH By Chinua Achebe (Nadine Gordimer, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ANTHILLS OF THE SAVANNAH By Chinua Achebe (John Gross, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: Mar 3, 1988 Neal Ascherson: Betrayal, NY Review of Books
       Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe
    -REVIEW: of Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe PAST BURDERS, FUTURE PROMISE: CHINUA ACHEBE AND AFRICAN LITERATURE  (Philip Graham, Chicago Tribune Books)
    -REVIEW : of Home and Exile by Chinua Achebe  (Alastair Niven, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of  Home And Exile by Chinua Achebe (Robert Oakeshott, Spectator uk)
    -BOOK LIST: MODERN NOVELS; THE 99 BEST A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe (Anthony Burgess, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : The Interdisciplinarity of Pragmatics and Politeness Theory with Reference to Chinua AchebeĆ­s No Longer At Ease (Douglas Killam, University of Guelph)
    -REVIEW : of No Longer at Ease Interpretive Analysis of No Longer At Ease
    -REVIEW : of No Longer at Ease (Melissa Culross, Postimperial & Postcolonial Literature in English [Landow])

    -African Studies Center (University of Pennsylvania)
    -The Imperial Archive Project
    -ESSAY: The Arts of Africa  (K. ANTHONY APPIAH, NY Review of Books)
    -LECTURE: Africa and Africans in Conrad's Heart of Darkness : A Lawrence University Freshman Studies Lecture (given by: Candice Bradley, Associate Professor of Anthropology)


this was the best summery i evere read about this novel. hope you keep up with the good work.

march 2005 sincerly snoopy

- Nikki of S.H.A.

- Mar-26-2005, 14:15