Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) — The Fishermen

fishermen-2Things Fall Apart for Four Nigerian Fishermen

Okay, so there are these four Nigerian brothers, ages 9 to 15, plus a couple of toddlers at home. Dad migrates to another part of the country for work. The boys start sneaking out to go fishing at a river that is prohibited for both public health and mythical reasons. A mentally ill homeless man makes a frightening prophesy. Subsequently, things fall apart. (Indeed, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is heavily referenced here.)

The novel is unremittingly dark, with murder, rape, and even a bit of necrophilia. Even occasional happy memories are seen through the lens of the subsequent domestic disaster. But Obiama’s prose is undeniably lyrical. Here are two samples: “Although Christianity had almost cleanly swept through Igbo land, crumbs and pieces of the African traditional religion had eluded the broom.” The narrator, 9-year-old Benjamin, aspires to be a veterinarian and so peppers his tale with animal metaphors: “The udder of courage from which we’d drunk our fill had been drained, and was now shrunken like a crone’s breast.”

This wasn’t my favorite Nigerian novel (what can I say? I’m more of a farcical Blackass guy), but I’m glad I read it listened to it. Fiammetta Rocco writes in the New York Times, that as more and more Africans have “erupted” onto the world’s literary stage, “these writers’ voices, anything but undistinguished, are as distinct as the African countries they come from, whether Nigeria in the west, Zimbabwe in the south or Ethiopia in the east.” They are — in fact — much more distinguished than that. It’s awesome.

Here are excerpts from a few other reviews:

“In his exploration of the mysterious and the murderous, of the terrors that can take hold of the human mind, of the colors of life in Africa, with its vibrant fabrics and its trees laden with fruit, and most of all in his ability to create dramatic tension in this most human of African stories, ­Chigozie Obioma truly is the heir to ­Chinua Achebe.” (Fiammetta Rocco, the New York Times –

“Whatever happens, Obioma has written a striking book—and luckily, people are noticing.” (Naomi Sharp, the Atlantic –

“Chigozie Obioma’s debut novel grows, gaining complexity and power as it rises to its heartbreaking climax.” (Helon Habila, The Guardian –

“Obioma’s The Fishermen is storytelling at its most captivating. The novel is delivered with the enchanting tenor of an ancient storyteller.” (Onyeka Nwelue, Brittle Paper –

“There is, to be sure, a compelling story somewhere in these 300 pages, as the attention from the folks at the Man Booker Prize attests. But it feels The Fishermen’s inclusion in the longlist has something to do with literary geopolitics: they had to fish out an African.” (Percy Zvoyuma, the Sunday Times –

“The Fishermen is an African novel that is not just historically relevant but thrilling and poignant in many ways.” (Obinna Udenwe, Illumination –

“This is a dark and beautiful book by a writer with seemingly endless promise.” (Michael Schaub, NPR –

Books mentioned in this book
  • The Bible
  • The Odyssey
  • Things Fall Apart
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