Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Achebe, Wilde, Rand

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I'd started this book once before, two years ago if I remember correctly, but couldn't take to it. This time, however I found the story to move very quickly and extremely interesting. The novel is very "African" in nature and follows the story a African tribal leader, who is considered an alpha male due to his obsession with work, removal of emotional-driven actions, and harsh, blunt personality contrasted with his father, whom he despises.

The book follows the digression and his descent from a respected, prominent leader in his tribe to his 7 year exile for manslaughter and reemergence into the tribe only to discover his irrelevance and the lifestyle he put so much faith in being eroded by Christian missionaries.

I think the idea of a "strong man" is especially relevant in African culture, specifically in political leaders. African strong man range from inspiring examples of leadership to those who have plagued their countries with woeful, sometimes oppressive governance. Additionally, there's a part of me that wants to decry the colonialism of Africa, as represented by the Christian missionaries, but I'll resist. But the fact that Achebe includes a character that represents colonialism further shows that it is an ever-present issue in African countries.

I'd recommend this book for sure...
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't given much attempt to read plays in the past. I've struggled through some Shakespeare and enjoyed Death of a Salesman, but that's about the extent of it.

I read this book upon the recommendation of a wonderfully pleasant and friendly female co-worker of mine from New Zealand. All I care to say about this is that it's terribly clever and entertaining. I had never read anything written by Wilde before and I was literally laughing out loud reading this book. I thought this play was masterfully written as ironic social commentary, specifically on the institution and practice of marriage. It seems to treat the serious matters as trivial and the trivial matters are treated quite seriously.

One of the things I enjoy about reading plays is that it is strictly dialogue, thus it reads quite quickly. Do yourself a favor and spend an afternoon reading this, if nothing else for entertainment's sake. Thanks Therese for the recommendation!

Night of January Sixteenth by Ayn Rand

Another play! Rand is better known for her novels The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and Anthem, but this is a refreshing change and a well-thought out courtroom drama.

Originally produced in 1934, Rand lets the audience play an active role in the plot and direction of the verdict. Members of the audience volunteered to serve as the jurors and then determined the verdict. Equally damning and acquitting evidence is presented on the behalf of Karen Andre, the mistress of Bjorn Faulkner and accused of his murder.

A number of witnesses are called to testify and present conflicting stories, so some of them are lying, although the actors themselves are not aware of what is the "correct" story. The truth and verdict would change each night with a different audience. I found this extremely entertaining and would love to see it performed. In my opinion, Rand's greatest strength is character development, as exemplified through her more famous characters such as Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. She certainly knows her characters inside and out and is unforgiving in her presentation of them. I think this is shown in this play as I constantly changed my personal verdict of Andre with each new witness.

Again, its a quick read and I think you'll find it as intriguing as I did. Also, if you haven't read Rand before, she is an author you should become more familiar with.

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