It’s easy to see how and why this has become one of the most influential novels in English-language African literature. It’s been referenced so much in so many novels I’ve read set afterwards, in the post-colonial era, and I can see why even if the overuse of the phrase “things fell apart” in We Need New Names was a bit irritating. It’s a brilliant precursor to all of those novels, honest and sombre. I feel that a lot of people who didn’t like it have oversimplified it; it makes them angry that he acknowledges the problems (in particular, the intensely patriarchal structures) in Igbo society before colonisation, and some of them have gone so far as to say doing so glorifies the colonists. I didn’t see this at all. The colonists are arrogant and brutal, but at the same time there were reasons why people gravitated towards their ideological servants, the missionaries… people like Nwoye, who is furious that his father killed his best friend, and a woman who keeps giving birth to twins that tradition dictates she must leave to die. It’s simultaneously mournful for what was lost and truthful enough to say that what existed was no utopia. Highly recommended.
Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.