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Book Review by Roslyn Fuller

Last update - Wednesday, August 1, 2012, 15:34 By Roslyn Fuller

Arrow of God By Chinua Achebe(Penguin Classics)

Chinua Achebe is most famous for his iconic novel Things Fall Apart, but I prefer the slightly lesser known Arrow of God. Set in the rural Igboland of Nigeria in the 1920s, Arrow of God is named for its main character, the enigmatic priest Ezeulu, who sees himself as an arrow in the bow of the god Ulu, the local deity to whom he is dedicated.
In contrast to Okonkwo, the macho-man protagonist of Things Fall Apart, Ezeulu is quieter and more calculating, but every bit as strong-willed. Where Okonkwo would have beaten his children into obedience, Ezeulu merely verbalises restrained yet scathing disapproval to bone-penetrating effect.
As British imperialism encroaches upon Ezeulu’s village, bringing roads and Christian missionaries, the elderly priest finds himself placed on an unstoppable crash course against the forces of modernism and monotheism that erode his own authority. It is this slow and fatalistic cultural collision that Arrow of God so masterfully evokes as Ezeulu bargains ever more recklessly in a bid to retain respect for both himself and Ulu, a respect so easily – if often unwittingly – undermined by the moderate Captain Winterbottom and his inexperienced sidekick Tony Clarke.
Achebe often depicts whole swathes of village life almost completely in local proverbs, which give a sense of both playfulness and wisdom. The shift in atmosphere between Ezeulu’s village Umuaro and Captain Winterbottom’s headquarters on Government Hill is palpable; the portrayal of rural Igbo life captivating in its detail.
However long you may have known something as a distant fact, Achebe can bring it home to you as a reality.
It would be an oversimplification to say that Arrow of God is about the tension between tradition and change. Ezeulu orders his third son to attend the church and learn to read precisely because he knows that knowledge of these things will help his family to thrive in the future. It’s more an examination of a shifting power dynamic, in which both sides are host to traditions both cumbersome and liberating.
Considering its meaty substance, Arrow of God is a curiously subtle book, one you will want to read more than once.

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