As his mother's only son, Chike is sent away from their bush village to school, where he lives with his uncle in a house crowded with tenants. "In Umuofia," Achebe writes, "every thief was known, but here even people who lived under the same roof were strangers to one another. Hiss uncle's servant told Chike that sometimes a man died in one room and his neighbor in the next room would be playing his gramophone. It was all very strange."
All the requisite English traditions are in evidence at Chike's school. Football (soccer), cramming for exams and English food are part of his school life. The boys are told such things as, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. A ridiculous thing to say in a society where children fetch water at dawn.
This is a young adult book that, at every page turn, tugs at the notion of tradition versus modernity. It describes the Africa of today with precision.
I've seen for myself, in the Rift Valley in Northern Kenya (a different area but connected to the struggle of past and present), this clash of new and old. There, herders who have no electricity, cars or modern medicine, wear Micky Mouse tee shirts and have modern wrist watches. They, indeed, are living on a bridge of time, and I've often wondered what that must be like. This coming of age story, on so many levels, addresses that reality in a profound way.