Book Review: No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe


Review of No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe

When Obi Okonkwo grandson of Okonkwo, the main character of Things Fall Apart returns to Nigeria from England in the 1950s, his foreign education separates him from his African roots. He’s become a part of a ruling elite whose corruption he finds repugnant. Forced to choose between traditional values and the demands of a changing world, he finds himself trapped between the expectations of his family, his village, and the larger society around him.

My Review of No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe

Firstly, I’m sorry for being so late to the party. Yeah, I’d read Things fall apart and Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe years ago, but I don’t know why it took me so long to read this one. And while reading this book, I didn’t have the faintest idea that Obi Okonkwo’s father, Isaac Okonkwo, is Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son from Things fall apart, till the later part of it. That means Obi Okonkwo is Okonkwo’s grandson, and they have a lot of similarities.

Set in the fifties, No longer at ease is a story about Obi Okonkwo, a man that the people of his town Umuofia send to England to study Law on a scholarship that he would repay for four years. But Obi doesn’t study law, he studies English instead. Typical Obi Okonkwo, he does whatever he wants, not minding anybody’s thoughts or feelings. Though the Umuofians do not really like his course of study, they’re still satisfied with whatever they can get, and they can finally boast to the other communities that their son has gone to England to study amongst the white men.

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Obi’s father, Isaac, is not only a devout Christian but a Catechist too and so does nothing that will associate him with the heathens. He wears his faith on his sleeves and expects everyone in his family to do the same. But when Obi comes home after his studies, he doesn’t really believe in God. But he doesn’t let his father know, because what good will it do him? In fact, Obi is the opposite of what the Umuofians expect of him. As if his studying English in place of Law isn’t enough, he tells them he wants to marry Clara, an osu.

Now an Osu is an outcast, a person whom their forefathers dedicated to the gods. Their generations and generations after them are meant to belong to the gods and this means they have no business marrying the freeborn, no matter how successful and beautiful they may be. When Obi finds out Clara is an osu, he swears to marry her, that nothing, not even a barbaric law can stop him. His townsman, Joseph, tries to stop him, but he’s too stubborn to listen to anyone. And this is one trait that he and Okonkwo of Things fall apart have in common, obstinacy.

During his days, Okonkwo’s pigheadedness makes him not heed Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s advice not to have a hand in Ikemefuna’s death. His stubbornness makes him disown Nwoye his son, for following the white man’s religion, and even when his friends and fellow elders are surrendering, he refuses to budge. Instead, he takes his own life.

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Obi Okonkwo is truly his grandfather’s grandson because he’s also stubborn to a fault. He knows his people’s culture, and that it is unheard of that freeborn marry outcasts, but he is so determined to break that law. According to him, the law is obnoxious. Why should people be denied to marry the people they love because of something their great, great, great, great grandparents did? He says the law would be obsolete in ten years’ time, so he should as well break it now.

A review of No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe

But he doesn’t know that sixty years later, the law would still be very much practiced in Igbo land. The issue of the Osu caste system has been one that has raised debates and controversial conversations for many years. It is one of the traditions that even Christianity hasn’t been able to abolish. Because even as religious as Obi’s father is, he vehemently refuses to let Obi marry an osu. Even as Obi uses his own words against him, it is a heathen behavior to call whom God created uncleanly, but Isaac refuses to give in. In his defense, he asks who would marry Obi’s children. It’s not enough that he marries Clara. But what of their children, who would marry them? Who would want to associate themselves with his family?

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There are so many themes I will point out in this review of No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe. One is the effect of osu caste system in Igbo culture. It is a disastrous feeling that at this age and year, so many people break engagements with people they’re madly in love with because they find out one of them is an osu. So many books have been written about it, and so many talks have been made. But it’s still much deep-rooted in Igbo tradition and I’m not sure if it will ever be abolished. I think it’s a harmful traditional practice that should be abolished, but the big question is by who? The fundamental question asked whenever anyone wants to get married is if they’re a family of osu, and no matter how Christian anyone is, the realization quickly puts them off. I really don’t know if and when it will be abolished, but I hope it happens soon.

Themes derivable from No longer at ease

There’s also the theme of principles and yielding to corruption. Obi is a principled man who would never indulge in any form of corruption no matter how much of a reward is dangled at him, till one day, something happens and he slowly becomes that which he swore never to be. And it leads me to think if we’re really principled or just haven’t faced befitting temptations. Is self-principle an illusion, or are humans true to their principles no matter what? In reality, humans are fickle beings, who dance to any tune that is favorable to them. And the hardest part of being principled is actually keeping them, staying faithful. It’s easy to be swayed by the things we lack and would do anything to have. But we shouldn’t be like Obi, we should be faithful to our principles.

I absolutely enjoyed reading this book. Of course, Achebe was a great novelist. I love his use of simple structured sentences and grammar, and how he draws us in with his powerful storytelling prowess. This book reveals how Nigeria existed during the pre-colonial and colonial Eras, and how Nigerians coped with colonial rule. It sheds light on class discrimination in the Civil service in the 1950s and in all, it’s a great history book. I’ll rate it as 5/5 because it’s totally worth it. I recommend this book and every other Chinua Achebe’s book if you love African Literature.

Have you read the book? How do you feel about it? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter, like, and follow me on all social media platforms, and share with your friends. Thank you for visiting Bookish Pixie.

No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe

6 thoughts on “Book Review: No longer at ease by Chinua Achebe”

  1. I’ve not read this book, but from this, I want to. You’ve raised some key critical reflections, it left me with strong message about justice and oppression. This was beautiful:

    “It’s easy to be swayed by the things we lack and would do anything to have. But we shouldn’t be like Obi, we should be faithful to our principles.”


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