Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, recently released the list of essential books everyone must read in their lifetime, and Nigeria's Chinua Achebe made the elite list with his celebrated first novel, Things Fall Apart.
The list was compiled by Amazon Books editorial team, and contains a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books.
Things Fall Apart was published in 1958, when Achebe was barely 28 years old. It is considered by critics and book lovers to be the single most important piece of literature out of Africa. The 50th anniversary of the 200-odd page novel was celebrated all over the world in 2008 with festivals, readings, symposia, concerts etc. The novel which has been likened to epic Greek tragedies has been translated to more than 50 languages and has sold over 10 million copies. It is taught not just in literature classes but in history and anthropology departments in colleges and universities across the globe.
The book tells the deceptively simple story of Okonkwo, a "strong man" whose life is dominated by the fear of failure. As a teenager he brought honour to his village by throwing the hitherto unbeatable Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match. His fame spread through the nine villages of Umuofia and even beyond like harmattan bushfire, but he remained troubled that his father Unoka was a debtor and a failure. As if to compound matters, Okonkwo notices weakness in his own son, Nwoye, and he comes to the sad conclusion that raging fire only ends up as impotent ash.
The book works at several levels, and can be read at any age from 10 to 100.