Reviewed by Daniel Musiitwa
The book tells the story of Obi Okonkwo, a young man who returns home to Nigeria, after his studies in England. Eager to make a difference in his newly independent home country, Obi finds that he has to balance his career ambitions, with the expectations of his family and tribe mates.
He takes up a prestigious job with the civil service, where over time, he finds himself confronted with a series of personal and professional dilemmas. Over time, he’s overwhelmed, gets morally compromised, and eventually slides into debt, as he tries to meet competing personal and societal demands. Despite starting out with the best intentions, he ends up a tragic failure.
Obi’s story is as much about the clash between the old and the new, as it is an attempt to probe the roots of Africa’s problems in the post-colonial period. Through Obi’s experience, the author explores the tensions in post-colonial Nigeria, more especially the clash between modernity and traditional values.
The book explores important but difficult questions – Can western values co-exist with African traditions? Why is it that Nigeria and many other African countries remain poor despite having thousands of western educated men and women? Are there contextual factors that explain the failure of western institutions in post-colonial Africa?
Achebe does not provide answers, but through Obi’s own story he explores these questions.
In the end, nobody can quite explain Obi’s tragic end, when he is trapped and arrested for taking bribes. To quote from the book, “Everybody wondered why”
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