ABR’s #CBR5 Review #13: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

things-fall-apartI hadn’t heard of Chinua Achebe until his death in March. I’d seen Things Fall Apart in the bookstore but didn’t realize its significance until I read his obituary. Not only is it one of the most widely read books in African literature, it is considered “the archetypal modern African novel” and is a staple around the world.

The novel follows the life of Okonkwo, an Ibo leader in pre-Colonial Nigeria. Okonkwo is respected because of his strength and his reputation as a wrestler, but his life has been marred by anger. Okonkwo has “no patience with unsuccessful men.” He seems to be a strict follower of his village’s customs, but his extreme intolerance of inaction and what he sees as cowardice ultimately leads to his downfall.

The title of the book comes from a Yeats’ poem that says “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold, Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” In the novel several things fall apart – Okonkwo’s family, his village, Nigeria – due to fear, anger, tradition, British colonialism and Christian missionaries.

Toward the end of the book one of the white authorities says, “one of the most infuriating habits of these people was their love of superfluous words.” I found this interesting because there is nothing superfluous about the book. It’s a beautiful, sad, evocative story – part Greek tragedy, part cautionary tale, part historical fiction. I read the book, but I think it would be even more affecting to listen to the audio book, where you hear the correct pronunciations and intonations, but also because so much of this book relies on oral traditions of the Igbo people on whom this was based.

I bought my copy of Things Fall Apart at my local used bookstore. Inside was an inscription from Mrs. Bernstein to Marc. “This is a book I read in college, and I still consider it one of the greatest books I have ever read. That is why I wanted you to have a copy. You may be a little too young for it now but one day, when you have nothing to do in Texas, maybe you’ll pick it up.”

I hope Marc took Mrs. Bernstein’s advice and read the book.

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #10: Unclaimed by Courtney Milan

If I were more charitable, I’d say that I didn’t like Unclaimed (2011) by Courtney Milan because I’ve been reading too many romance novels lately and they’re just getting old. But I think it’s more than that. I was bored by the unbelievable characters and story and I just couldn’t get into this one. Someone, somewhere mentioned Milan as a favorite, which is why I picked up Unclaimed, but her writing definitely does not work for me.

Read the rest of my review here.Unclaimed

And just to make it clear what you’d be getting yourself into, here’s the cover art.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #21: I Am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

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The irrepressible Flavia de Luce is back for a 4th go at some amateur sleuthing. When a world famous film star is murdered while filming in the de Luce mansion, Flavia is like a dog with two tails. Is it any good though? Find out here

KimMiE” ’s #CBR5 Review #3: I Am Murdered: George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson, and the Killing that Shocked a New Nation by Bruce Chadwick

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George Wythe was an American patriot. He signed the Declaration of Independence and served as one of Virginia’s representatives at the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. He was a well-known judge and a law professor at William and Mary (America’s first law professor, they say). Friend and mentor to Thomas Jefferson and a well-respected pillar of the community, George Wythe was admired by all who knew him, so it was quite a shock to the citizens of Richmond, Virginia, when he was murdered by his grand-nephew.

Wythe was 80 years old when he, along with two members of his household, fell suddenly and violently ill. His servant Lydia Broadnax, a freed slave, and his protégé Michael Brown were also stricken, with Broadnax eventually recovering and Brown dying within a week. Wythe hung on for two weeks, all the time insisting that he had been poisoned by his sister’s grandson—and ironically, his own namesake—George Wythe Sweeney.

It wasn’t hard to believe, of course. Everyone knew Sweeney as a gambler and a wastrel who had taken advantage of his uncle’s generosity time and again. While living with his uncle in Richmond, Sweeney forged checks and sold some of Wythe’s valuable books to pay gambling debts. Wythe never pressed charges in those cases, hoping against hope that Sweeney would mature and settle down, but even his generous spirit had to draw the line at his own murder. Wythe lived long enough to not only accuse Sweeney but to cut him out of his will.

The court of public opinion was roundly against Sweeney and the case against him seemed air tight. All signs pointed to arsenic poisoning, a star prosecutor was on the case, and there was even a reliable eye witness in Lydia Broadnax, who claimed to have seen Sweeney put something in the coffee that morning. Yet as with many a famous trial, mistakes were made. During the autopsy, the doctors failed to perform basic tests for arsenic that would have proven the cause of death. Two well-known attorneys eager to make names for themselves by winning an unwinnable case came to Sweeney’s defense. And Broadnax was prevented from testifying because Virginia law did not allow blacks, free or slave, to testify in court.

I Am Murdered provides an interesting account of law and politics in the United States’ early years. Chadwick delves into the relationship between Wythe and Jefferson and recounts their impact on Virginia law. He also paints a colorful picture of Richmond, which was apparently the Sodom and Gomorrah of colonial America with all its gambling houses and brothels. The botched autopsy and the doctors’ initial misdiagnosis of cholera illuminates how even the very best doctors of the day were prone to dreadful screw ups. Finally, the simple detail of Broadnax not being permitted to testify puts the period’s race relations front and center in the narrative.

I’d have to say that I Am Murdered is more about the history of Virginia than it is a historical crime story, which is fine, just not what I was expecting from a book with, you know, murder in the title. So even though I enjoyed the book and found the history interesting, I felt strangely dissatisfied. Perhaps it’s because it held so much potential to be a sensational true-life crime drama: the villain in the story is so shameless he tries to get his victim to bail him out of jail! Edmund Randolph, one of the attorneys who defended Sweeney, was the same attorney who drafted the new will that cut Sweeney out of his inheritance. My God, can’t you just see this as an episode of Law and Order: Colonial America?

As a slice of early American history, I Am Murdered is well worth the read. Just know that’s what you are getting, with a little murder on the side.

lyndamk #cbr5 review #4: Vietnam: Rising Dragon by Bill Hayton

Vietnam: Rising Dragon is not just for the Vietnam bound or Southeast Asian fans. Considering Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world. Considering President Obama has proclaimed a Pacific Pivot. And considering the rising dragon is nestled in the armpit of China, this is a country to watch. Read more at my blog …

Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review 2: Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski

To us a carpet, for example, is a vital necessity. You spread a carpet on a wretched, parched desert, lie down on it, and feel you are lying in a green meadow. … And then you feel whole, you feel eminent, you are near paradise, you are a poet.   –  Mr. Ferdousi

The Iranian Hostage Crisis started when I was 11.  I was not a sheltered child.  My hippie parents watched the news, went to protests, and discussed world events at the dinner table.  I remember the fall of Saigon, the resignation of Richard Nixon, and the mass suicide at Jonestown.  But it was the nightly coverage of the hostage crisis for 1 year, 2 months, 2 weeks, and 2 days that changed the way I saw the world.  The world became a much larger  more complicated place.   In that year, the news changed from background noise, to information I deliberately sought.  A couple of kids with funny names and funny accents began going to my school and suddenly I knew people directly affected by the Iranian Revolution.  The news was no longer by, for, and about adults.

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Malin’s #CBR5 Review #5: Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Miranda Ellis has the power to start fires, but when she was ten years old, she wasn’t very good at controlling it, and accidentally set her father’s warehouse on fire, causing him to lose most of his money. He’s never really forgiven her, and forces her to pick pockets and steal to supplement the family income. It also means that he has no scruples about promising her hand in marriage to an enraged nobleman whose cargo he stole while he was a thriving businessman.

Lord Benjamin Archer is an unbelievably wealthy, but cursed man, forever changed in a botched supernatural accident. Formerly a member of an elite gentleman’s club, he’s been travelling the world for decades looking for a cure for his malady. He never appears outside without gloves and a mask, and there are any number of terrifying rumours about him. Having first set eyes on Miranda after rescuing her from an attack in an alley, he becomes instantly drawn to her, and spares her father’s life and forgives his debt if he agrees to the match. When his spies reveal that Miranda is forced to steal to survive, he returns to London to claim her as his bride, assuring himself that she is better off with him than with her careless father.