No Longer at Ease is the second book in Achebe’s trilogy, the first being Things Fall Apart, and the third, Arrow of God.
Obi Okonkwo returns to Nigeria from Britain after completing his English degree, for a job in the civil service. Despite the salary he’s paid and other benefits, he soon starts experiencing economic hardships. He needs to make monthly payments back for his scholarship, send money home, and his own living expenses. Initially, Obi strongly refuses to be a part of the corruption that runs through the system but with the financial hole he’s sinking into, how long can he reject the bribes?
Achebe takes us through the course of corruption in Nigeria, and how the idealism of youth to change a broken system can easily be destroyed by so many surrounding circumstances. The corruption is shown here at all kinds of levels; the white man, the police, taxi drivers, ministers, doctors, and many others.
Another important theme that largely occurs in the story is that of the high expectations of certain societies on the educated, new professionals who’ve just started making money. Obi has just returned from England, with his prestigious education and his civil service job which to them means a river of money. He’s also the first to go study abroad in his village and was paid for from the pockets of people back home who took from the little they had to put together the scholarship. Expectations are high, and so is the “black tax.”
No Longer at Ease is a good work of social and political commentary. Chinua Achebe has written work that looks deeply into the structure of corruption, education, and politics not only in Nigeria but throughout Africa. It is also interesting how the novel ties in with the other ones. I have only read Things Fall Apart, and although brief, the link between the two is skilfully revealed. It is enjoyable, it can drag at times but eventually as the events unfold it becomes more interesting. Personally, between the two I’ve read, Things Fall Apart is the best.