Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Many best books lists are comprised of tomes so dense and impenetrable
that it requires a Master's degree in literature to make heads or tails
of them. Things Fall Apart is not one of those books. Chinua Achebe's
writing is simple and clean, even though his subject matter is anything
but. The reader is quickly immersed in tribal life -- in its traditions,
its values, its sayings. These things become so familiar and dear that
as they begin to change, with time and with outside influence, you mourn
Achebe's true genius, however, is in his creation of a totally unsympathetic character, and then giving you enough understanding so that you can't help but sympathize with him. Okonkwo is not a kind man. He is hard and unyielding, and rules his household with an iron hand. He detests weakness, and truly believes that by beating his son he will make him stronger. But from the beginning we are shown why he fears failure, and by the end, we understand that fear, maybe even share it.
Of course I've read enough Dorothy Parker to know that the reviews that trash the subject are always more interesting than those that lavish nothing but praise. Nevertheless, I loved this book, and would recommend it to just about anyone.