Updated: Jan 18, 2019
When Benjamin’s father is transferred to the city for work, the strict discipline that he has enforced on Benjamin and his brothers slowly withers away. Eventually the brothers take up fishing. Fishing is not the problem. The river where they fish is. The river Omi-ala was once worshipped as a God. When the European colonialists arrived bringing Christianity with them, the river became a forbidden place believed and rumoured to contain evil water spirits and demons. These beliefs and rumours soon seemed trivial and insignificant when a woman’s mutilated corpse was found bobbing in the shallows. The police imposed a complete ban on the river from dusk till dawn. Had their father been around than the boys would never have even contemplated fishing in this river. After six weeks they are discovered by a woman, a friend of their mother, and she tells the mother. This brings the fishing to and end when their mother threatens to tell their father, a move that will surely bring down his wrath upon them. Their fears are painfully justified when their father, upon hearing about the fishing from their mother, deals out a severe whipping to each of them. After this whipping a rift is formed between Ikenna and the other boys, with Ikenna becoming more and more angry and belligerent to his brothers, especially Boja. When the mother confronts the boys about the growing isolation between Ikenna and the rest of the brothers we find out that the village madman, Abulu has prophesied that Ikenna will be killed by a fisherman. Ikenna assumes that the fisherman must be one of his brothers. The narrative is being told in the present day by an adult Benjamin. The events he is talking about happened in the past during his childhood. Obioma uses the shifts from an adult to a child’s perspective to great effect. An action performed by Benjamin or the other brothers as a child can be viewed by the present Benjamin, and in hindsight the repercussion of these actions can be felt. This begins a narrative that slowly builds in suspense and tension, like an old volcano, considered to be dormant, slowly builds towards eruption. Obioma has written a stunning and beautiful debut. I particularly like the ending. So many times a great novel can be ruined by a mediocre ending, but Obioma’s ending, similar to the volcano erupting, is magnificent. I can’t wait to read his next book now. 4.5 Stars.
Chigozie Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria. His debut novel, The Fishermen, is winner of the inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Award for Fiction, the NAACP Image Awards for Debut Literary Work, and the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction (Los Angeles Times Book Prizes); and was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize 2015, as well as for several other prizes in the US and UK. Obioma was named one of Foreign Policy's 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2015. His work has been translated into more than 25 languages and adapted into stage. He is an assistant professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His second novel, An Orchestra of Minorities, will be published in Spring 2019 by Little, Brown and Co.
I know that this book was published in 2015 and I am yet to read his current book, AN ORCHESTRA OF MINORITIES, but there seems to be some great Nigerian authors getting justified recognition. OYINKAN BRAITHWAITE , and UZODINMA IWEALA both have books in the Tournament of Books Shortlist and I did enjoy them both.
There is a great little interview with Obioma here - https://myafroweek.com/chigozie-obiomas-interview-on-his-novel-the-fishermen/