The debut novel by Chigozie Obioma made a big splash when it was launched in 2015; it was even shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It made such an impression on our book editor, who described it as ‘phenomenal fiction’, she even read it twice!
The novel is set in Akure, a city in Western Nigeria and follows the journeys of brothers Ben, Obembe, Bola and Ikenna, “Fishermen”, whose lives are dramatically altered by a prophecy. It is a story of brotherhood, fear, loyalty and vengeance, and is one of the most heart wrenching books I’ve ever read.
Even when reading this for a second time, I was enthralled by the beautiful way Obioma entwined Igbo sayings into the novel, and his story telling. Each chapter begins with a short simile comparing one of the characters to an animal or a thing, e.g “Mother was a Falconer”. Obioma then goes on to weave the characteristics of said being, to that character throughout the chapter in the most intricate and wonderful way.
He writes with vivid description and detail, to the point that I could picture the entire family, Omi-Ala, the river they fish in, the clothes they wore, and the colour of their bedroom walls. Equally, when the characters wept, I wept, as their happiness, pain, sorrow and fear were all so palpable. Not many authors are able to write in such a poetic and enchanting way, particularly in their debut!
The novel is written in first person, from Ben, the youngest brother’s point of view. His innocence and child-like (I think that’s a word) perception of the world only adds to the fear felt throughout that something dangerous is on the next page.
Critics have compared Obioma to the great Chinua Achebe, a tall feat, nevertheless, one I am sure Obioma can contend with.