Book 1 in Cannonball Read 2
A Man of the People is decidedly different than the other Achebe books I have read (Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease). A Man of the People deals explicitly with politics: the main character, Odili, befriends Chief Nanga, a Minister in the government of an unnamed African country, but after having a personal fallout with Nanga, Odili decides to run against him in the upcoming election. Although the book has been described as ‘political satire,’ to me it felt serious, mostly due to the sad implications of the political system it satirizes.
Achebe’s writing is in fine form, but his protagonist is not so easily sympathetic as in No Longer at Ease, and the book is narrated from the viewpoint of the protagonist. The reader is meant to see things from Odili’s point of view, to identify with him as a representative of the younger generation, reforming the corrupt politics of Nanga, who represents the old guard.
Switching from an omniscient narrator to a main character narrator also abandons the almost invisible shaping that Achebe gave to No Longer at Ease. Odili just states facts, including his emotional state and interpretation of events; there is no explanation or attempt to persuade in his direction. The result for me was that I kept brushing up against the main character’s perceptions and biases, a sign, I believe, of a well-written novel in the first person.
However, one of the central arcs of the novel is Odili seeking revenge on Nanga for sleeping with a woman he wanted to sleep with and had been involved with in the past. This revenge takes the form of Odili trying to steal Nanga’s fiancee. Instead of seeing it as Odili taking revenge on a man he sees as corrupt despite being taking in momentarily by his charm, I could not get past the perception that it was basically a dick measuring contest sublimated into the political arena. Thus I could not take A Man of the People to heart, though it is well-crafted.
I keep on butting up against No Longer at Ease as it compares to this book, which is not entirely fair, as it sets the bar unreasonably high, and A Man of the People is an entirely different beast. I admire Achebe’s success with a different style than Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease, even if I hold it somewhat at arm’s length due to my lack of identification with the protaganist.