This is my review of No Longer at Ease (Penguin Modern Classics) by Chinua Achebe.
Having just discovered Achebe and been bowled over by “Things Fall Apart”, I thought at first that this sequel lacked the former’s authentic magic of the evocation of tribal life amongst the Nigerian Igbo on the brink of being torn apart by the arrival of “the white man”.
However, the subtlety, insight and humour of this well-written tale soon began to engross me as I began to understand the dilemmas of Obi Okonkwu, grandson of the key figure of “Things Fall Apart” who returns from a scholarship in 1950s England where he has developed a love of English literature and adopted what he imagines to be an English way of life, only to find himself still a second class citizen in his own country, despite holding what is regarded as a privileged civil service post in colonial Lagos. We know from the outset that Obi has been caught and punished for corruption. The interest lies in how such a clearly perceptive and essentially honourable person can have allowed himself to fall into this trap.
Although a sad fable, like “Things Fall Apart”, reading this is a positive experience, because of the portrayal of a variety of characters with contrasting and opinions, together with the irony and humour that runs through Achebe’s work.
This thought-provoking book clarifies the dilemma in which many Nigerians must have found themselves, caught between old customs and beliefs and the desire to succeed on the terms that westerners have encouraged them to pursue. The reasons for the scale of corruption in West Africa is also explained – such as that it is simply regarded as helping members of one’s family or commmunity – and the fact that so many fall prey to it is made understandable.
My only reservation is that some developments occur too abruptly, but perhaps the resulting focus on what is most important to the author increases the dramatic impact of this short novel.