No Longer at Ease, Chinua Achebe, Ivan Oblensky Inc, 1960, 170 pp
Chinua's second novel, following Things Fall Apart, jumps several generations in time. Obi Okonkwo, an Ibo from eastern Nigeria, has returned from university studies in England and takes a position as a civil servant in Lagos.
Obi was the brightest boy from his village and had been granted a scholarship by the Umuafia Progressive Union, a social group that keeps current and former inhabitants of the village connected even after they move to other towns. He is a young man to whom much has been given and much is expected. But it is the mid 1950s and rapid change is the order of things.
Soon enough, despite a salary beyond the wildest dreams of anyone from Umuafia, Obi finds himself short of funds, as he tries to keep up with a higher standard of living. In addition, he is engaged to a young woman who will never by accepted by his family or village because of an ancient curse that haunts her family. Tragedy looms and finally arrives.
At first I missed the powerful story of Things Fall Apart. By the end I realized that it could not be the same. The tragedy is the same: the loss of certainty and the surrender of old tribal values in an effort to mix with the White Man. But the times are so different that Obi mistakenly hopes his modern views and education will see him through.
Thus, it seems the story is more tawdry, less shocking. Not only have native Africans lost their spiritual center, so have the English and indeed much of the world. The horror of colonialism has become the commonplace. Yet Obi's efforts to carry on as an African while trying to assimilate into modern times are just as tragic as the headman's failure in Things Fall Apart. Things have fallen apart further.
(No Longer at Ease is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)