A Brilliant Burst of Fire | Review of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen| by Onyeka Nwelue
February 25, 2015
Pub. Date: April 15, 2015. Publisher: Little, Brown and Company. 304 pp. Preorder HERE.
When asked at what point in his life he knew he’d become a storyteller, Chigozie Obioma tells the story about his father giving him a copy of Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard.
This eclectic introduction to storytelling may have prepared Obioma to write his beautifully quirky debut novel titled The Fishermen. The novel follows nine-year-old Benjamin and his brothers after their father accepts a job transfer to a faraway city. Near the river, at a forbidden part of the town, the four brothers encounter a local seer-madman, Abulu, whose prophecy of violence threatens the core of the family. When Benjamin’s brothers assume one brother will kill the other, rifts form, and a chain of events is set in motion that threatens to change the course of Benjamin’s life and even that of the entire community.
The prose is crafted with the careful precision of a skillful tattoo artist. Obioma’s story about four brothers embroiled in a filial war of attrition manages the Herculean task of staying entertaining while x-raying the Nigerian war of attrition among the major ethnicities. The story blends the enigma, beauty, and dangers of family intimacy with a nuanced exploration of the socio-political situation of Nigeria.
Speaking on this layered texture of the novel, Obioma says in an interview: “First, it was intended as a sort of tribute to my brothers—a love letter. I tried to tell the universal story of family bonds and what happens when they are severed.”
“On a larger thematic note,” he continues, “I wanted the novel to comment on the socio-political situation of Africa, especially Nigeria. Nigeria, to me, is an insane idea created by a madman and bought by sane people; the “madman” here being the British, and the sane being the people of Nigeria (three major ethnicities with nothing in common, cohabiting to form a nation).”
Obioma’s The Fishermen is storytelling at its most captivating. The novel is delivered with the enchanting tenor of an ancient storyteller. Reading Obioma’s debut work is as close as you would come to feeling the wide-eyed wonder of children listening to stories while sitting on the ground around a fire that crackles and pays homage in thick smoke to the silver glow of moonlight.
The Fishermen is a must-read.
Post image by Jessica Craig via Twitter @barcelonagent
Onyeka Nwelue is author of the award-winning novel, The Abyssinian Boy (DADA Books, 2009), collection of poetry, Burnt (Hattus, 2014) and the creative non-fiction, Hip-Hop is Only for Children (Hattus, 2015). He lives between Paris and Puebla.