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This book cracked my heart. At first I struggled to get into it as it talked about people and customs I had no knowledge of, and some which, like the leaving of twins in the forest to die, I instinctively recoiled from. But gradually, as I got to know the great warrior Okonkwo I started to emphasise with him. Realising that all his bluster and hardness was driven by a fear that he would turn out to be ‘soft’ and worthless, like his father, if he ever relaxed his vigilance, hard work and hold on his family. I began to grasp that although the setting and the customs may be different the things that matter, the characteristics and frailties that bind us together in a common humanity, are the same the world over.

And that is why, when the white missionaries and administrators arrive, changing Okonkwo’s world of stability and erasing its seeming permanence and certainly, I empathised with him, I was on his side. The tragic ending of this novel is all the more forceful due to a sudden switch in perspective to that of a white colonial administrator. You realise that the administrator doesn’t understand any of the things this book has taught you about common humanity, and that instead he exists in a dichotomous world where there is the, correct, white man’s way of doing things, and the, incorrect, black man’s way. And it is this dichotomous view that led to things falling apart in such a pitiful way.

A lesson that we need to learn from, and is just as important in today’s world as it was when this book was written over 50 years ago.


While a young man Simon Wiesenthal was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. One day whilst he is doing manual work at a High School turned into a military hospital he is called by a nurse to the bedside of a dying SS member. The man wishes to confess his crime – that of taking part in the massacre of several hundred Jews – to a Jew and to receive forgiveness. Simon Wiesenthal walks away from his bedside without a word.

The rest of the book is turned over to 53 responses to Wiesenthal’s story and question: did I do the right thing? Responses are drawn from illustrious individuals, such as the Dalai Lama, Primo Levi, and Desmond Tutu, to name a few. They discuss the concept of forgiveness, its possibilities, who can, and has a duty to, dispense it. In doing so they force you to consider the book’s relevance to today’s world as it raises questions about man, his nature and what our personal duties to both each other and ourselves are: issues that every individual has a duty to consider.

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