Book Review Sample -Critical Review of “Arrow of God” by Chinua Achebe

Introduction

The purpose of this essay is to conduct a critical review of the books “Arrow of God” and “The West and the Rest of us” by Chinua Achebe and Chinweizu Ibekwe, respectively. In order to carry out this critical review, the books will be reviewed one after the other, pointing to relative findings and observations with respect to author, objectives, contexts, audience and methods.

With respect to reviewing the author, the review will consider the qualification of the authors, which are not academic qualifications but incorporate the authors’ real life and living experiences, interests, perspectives and biases. In reviewing the objectives, the writer will consider the aims and purpose the authors set out to achieve and whether the books have added to existing knowledge.

In the third section, the contexts will be reviewed where the academic, personal, political and social circumstances under which the literary works were produced will be examined. In the aspect of audiences, the review will be focused on identifying the expressed and implied audiences whom the author intended to address the work. In the review of methods, the reviewer aims to ascertain the methods (qualitative or quantitative or both) applicable by the authors to achieve their aims.

 “Arrow of God” by Chinua Achebe

  1. Author

Achebe was born around November 1930 in an Igbo community known as Ogidi in present-day Anambra State, Nigeria (British Council, 2013). In the aspect of perspective and biases, Achebe had risen and become an acclaimed novelist known for non-biased depictions and descriptions of the socio-cultural and psychological disorientation that comes with the coming and imposition of Western customs and norms and values upon the native African people and society.

Achebe concerned himself with the issues surrounding emergent African societies following the encounter with the Whites. Achebe’s interest is not to demonise or bemoan the White’s entrance and impositions on the native society as he was concerned in covering both fields by showing that irrespective of the negative implications of British colonialism, there are still positives that can be curated from the experiences (Menon, 2015; Njeng, 2018).

Academically, Achebe studied English and Literature at the university, which gave him a better grasp of the utilisation of literary components in making his writings consumable to the audience. In respect to the living experiences of Achebe, notably, he was born in the year 1930, which is about 30 years before the formal grant of independence to Nigeria. He lived his early life in his native community Ogidi which implies that he was part of the society he wrote about (Cliff Notes, 2020).

By being part of the native community that witnessed the coming of the whites, it was possible for Achebe to recreate the accounts of the daily life, customs, and rituals that were common in the Igbo native societies. With the scintillating manner in which Achebe presents his story, it appears he had an advantage that illuminated his writings. The advantage may be that Achebe truly witnessed the accounts in his book, or he was told a similar story by an elderly person from whom he developed the book’s contents. This is substantiated by the fact that 1930 (his year of birth) is contemporaneous with the time of the setting of the book (the 1920s) (Njeng, 2018; Rajana, 2018).

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  1. Objectives

Every literature has a set out objective which may be expressly stated or implied from an overview of the work or in the context of the work. In this particular book under review, the author seeks to decry the destructive effects and consequences which occur as a result of colonial rule in forms not limited to “alienation, frustration, and a loss of cohesiveness and a clear code of behaviour”.

The author also aimed at depicting irrespective of the negative consequences of British colonial administration, such was able to expose that certain tradition and customs of the native people are undesirable, truly primitive and superstitions. Achebe aimed at showing the early interactions between the whites and natives and the processes of events that relate to such interactions.

Therefore, it may be concluded that the objective of the book is to relay the socio-cultural and socio-political lifestyles in the native African society and how coming of the British affected the same negatively and positively through a fictional work of literature (Marandi & Shadpour, 2011; Manon, 2015; Njeng, 2018).

As correctly referenced, these objectives are ascertained based on observations made in various works of literature and personal observations from the book itself. Apparently, the objectives may be said to be worthwhile and contribute to existing knowledge as it brings a different dimension to the streams of discourses available in the post-colonial literature.

Most other African literature is easily chasing to embrace the discourse on slave trading and European marginalisation; only a few like Achebe in Arrow of God was able to agree that there are positives to pick from the British colonisation as well as there are negatives (Manon, 2015; Njeng, 2018). The objectives are worthwhile as the author was not focused on demonising British colonialists as it recommends amidst suspicion of Western materialism for openness to Western thought (Achebe, 1964).

  1. Contexts

Arrow of God was written in 1964 barely four years following the independence of Nigeria. The period is known as the state where most pan-Africanists are blaming all the woes and difficult state of affairs on the Whites and restoration of African identity was the theme of most literary works.

Amongst the things that would have struck Achebe to agree to the fact that there are still positives from the British conquest would be the fact that the University he attended (University College, Ibadan) was made possible as a result of the British Colonial administration and primitive customs like the killings of twins were abolished as well, as a result, the entrance of the Whites. Therefore, it was possible for Achebe to agree with the Whites in some aspects and disagree with them in some aspects – no wonder he is termed a non-sentimental writer (Sijo, 2016; Njeng, 2018).

Achebe does not write as an outsider as he is an insider’s real-life plots similar to the plots he tends to recreate in the book – this allows him to be truly creative instead of being imitative. Also being a teacher in some foreign universities and Nigerian Universities influenced Achebe’s writing and minimised the tendency of being biased.

On that note, Achebe applies juxtaposition of past and present, of the traditional and the modern as against narrative movement. He achieves balance through comparison and contrast and utilises exposition more than drama (Sijo, 2016).

Achebe writes as one who witnessed the intrusion of the whites into the native African communities and into his own Igbo community – Ogidi. Such views he interpreted through a character in his book known as Unachukwu where he states “…The wither man, the new, religion, the soldiers, and the new road-they all are part of the same thing, the white man has a gun, a matchet, a bow and carries fire in his mouth.

He does not fight with one weapon alone” (Achebe, 1964, 85). Being a Christian convert did not deter Achebe from also conceptualising the Christian religion as part of the weapon or strategy applied by the whites to propagate their occupation of the native communities (Mirandi & Shadpour, 2011).

His practical advice is that Africans should learn to cope with a changing world. He teaches the necessity of compromise: a loyalty to traditional wisdom and values, if not to tribal politics and outmoded customs, along with a suspicion of Western materialism but an openness to Western thought. This brings the discourse to the consideration of the Eurocentric views on the one side and Afrocentric (Africology) views on the other side.

On that note, the major themes of these Eurocentric scholars/views were mainly to undermine and denigrate the validity of other cultures like that of Africans and termed same as inferior, irrational or primitive. On the hand, Afrocentric views/scholars aim at shaking off these Eurocentric views by establishing African identity, values and norms or perhaps a return to the African way prior to the British conquest.

Thus, the predominant occupation of most African works of literature is mainly focused on proving the Eurocentric views incorrect, biased and wrong (Hallen, 2009). However, Achebe finds himself in the middle appeasing both sides of the divide and appealing that the positives from both sides should be harnessed and applied while the negatives should be jettisoned and eradicated completely. No wonder he acknowledged that the British conquest came with negative implications but it has also contributed positively to African beings (Manon, 2015; Sijo, 2016).

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  1. Audiences

The audience in any given work can implicit or explicit and in most literary works like the “Arrow of God” by Chinua Achebe, the audience is often implied and not usually expressed. This means that it is the duty of a reader to identify the audience to whom the author intends to address the book. In identifying who the audiences are, one may need to first identify the categories of persons whose issues are addressed in the book.

In as much as the setting of the novel is an Igbo community of Umuaro depicting the struggles between native traditions and customs and the intrusion of the British Colonial Administrators; the audience is primarily anyone interested in understanding from a fictional background the role play, colonial tricks and rifts that came along with the colonial occupation of African native communities including the use of missionaries.

The audience may be said to be the African natives who need to grasp the entrants of the whites and how some natives contributed to the occupation of indigenous land by the whites. The fact that Achebe does not present ‘de-westernisation’ in Africa makes his works also include the West as part of his audience. Generally, the book will be credited as having a large poll of the audience (Achebe, 1964, Sijo, 2016, Njeng, 2018).

  1. Methods

An author may apply qualitative, quantitative or both in writing a piece in order to reach the audience or achieve an objective. Where the qualitative approach is applied, it implies that an author has relied on the use of language, styles and terminologies to present the contents of the work while the quantitative approach implies that an author has relied on the use of tables, diagrams, charts, graphics and images to present the contents.

However, there is nothing restricting an author from combining both approaches where and when it is imperative to do so in order to reach the audience and attain the objectives. Based on the foregoing, Chinua Achebe in writing the book under review adopts basically the qualitative approach. Apparently, the use of a qualitative approach is suitable for the objectives and for the audiences as it is fictional work depending wholly on the use of language, terminologies and analogies (Achebe, 1964; Manon, 2015; Sijo, 2016).

References (Sources)

Acemah, H. (2017) ‘Africa: The West and the Rest of Us’, Monitor Kampala, All Africa, Available on https://www.allafrica.com/view/group/main/main/id/0049188.html [Accessed September 27, 2021]

Achebe, C. (1964) Arrow of God, First ed. London: Heinemann

British Council (2013) ‘Chinua Achebe: Biography’, Available on https://www.literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/chinua-achebe [Accessed September 27, 2021]

Cliff Notes (2020) ‘Chinua Achebe Biography’, Available on https://www.cliffnotes.com/literature/t/ [Accessed September 27, 2021]

Dbpedia (2021) ‘Chinweizu Ibekwe’, Available on https://www.dbpedia.org/page/chinweizu&ved [Accessed September 27, 2021]

Goodreads (2020) ‘Chinweizu Ibekwe’, Available on https://goodreads.com/author/show/150732.Chinweizu&ved [Accessed September 27, 2021]

Hallen, B. 2009. A Short History of African Philosophy, second ed., Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ibekwe, C. (1975) The West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers and African Elites, 1st Ed. New York: Random House Publishers

Lloyd, G. A. (2021) ‘Chinweizu, Asia’s Rise and Disentangling Africa’s Strategic Incoherence for Africa’s Future’, Journal of African and Asian Studies, 20(1-2): 154-178, Doi: 10.1163/15692108-12341487

Lloyd, G. A. et al., (2021) ‘Chinweizu: Over Forty Years of Reflections on Africa, Asia and the World’ Brill Special Edition on Chinweizu, African and Asian Studies, Available on https://www.brill.com/view/journals/aas/20/1-2/article-p4_2.xml?language=en [Accessed September 27, 2021]

Manon, A. (2015) ‘A Post-colonial Insights to Chinua Achebe’s African Trilogy’, New York: Bridge Center

Marandi, S. M., and Shadpour, S. R., (2011) ‘Christianity as an Ideological Instrument: A postcolonial reading of Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God’ African Journal of History and Culture 3(4), 48-53,

Mhango, N. N. (2018) How Africa Developed Europe: Deconstructing the His-story of Africa, Excavating Untold Truth and What Ought to Be Done and Known, Bamenda, Cameroon: Langaa Research & Publishing Common Initiative Group.

Njeng, E. S. (2018) ‘Appropriating Writings in Chinua Achebe’s Arrow of God’, Prague Journal of English Studies, 7 (1). Doi:10.1515/pjes-2018-0006

Nyamnjoh, F. (2004) ‘From Publish or Perish to Publish and Perish: What ‘Africa’s 100 Best Books’ Tell us about Publishing Africa’, Journal of Asian and African Studies, Doi: 10.1177/0021909604051185

Rajana, D. S. (2018) ‘ Critiquing the Post-colonial Constructs in Chinua Achebe’s novels’ Cambridge Scholars Publishers.

Sijo, C. J. (2016) ‘The Loss of Identity in Arrow of God: A Postcolonial Reading’, ReTell, 16(1)

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