Chinua Achebe’s first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), is the most important work by an African author. ‘Over five million copies’ of the book have been sold and it has been translated into thirty languages. 1 Its influence on the development of the contemporary African literary and critical tradition has been substantial. In the view of H. L. B. Moody, Elizabeth Gunner, and Edward Finnegan, it can be taken ‘to mark the beginning of modern African literature’ (vii), while for C. L. Innes, its author ‘may be deemed the “father of the African novel in English”’ (19).
As numerous critics have noted, Things Fall Apart provided a model for succeeding writers to follow. Thus David Cook states that it ‘has become an early landmark…because it is a worthy archetype’ (65). And while Kofi Awoonor writes of how Achebe’s ‘style and thematic preoccupations… inspired a whole new school of writers who may be referred to as the “clash of cultures” novelists’ (279-80), C. L. Innes and Bernth Lindfors speak of the ‘School of Achebe’ (6). Similarly, Lewis Nkosi states that in his reconstruction of the past—his establishment of ‘history as the “hero” of the African novel’—Achebe ‘blazed a trail large enough to be followed by other writers’ (33); and that in his innovative handling of language, he ‘[set] an example which has influenced many younger writers’ (53). Things Fall Apart also provided a model for critics. In the words of Gerald Moore:
[Its] appearance…in 1958 won for its author a position of eminence in African literature which for a long time led to his being elevated above his fellows, in his own and the succeeding generation. The book was quickly recognized as a classic and tended to be used as a yardstick with which to measure the many Anglophone novels, Nigerian and other, that followed it.
(Twelve African Writers 123)