What we have waited for months: the first review of Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities. The arrival of Obioma’s 464-page second novel is one we tracked for over a year: from when Little, Brown acquired rights to it in May 2017 to the cover and publication date reveal in January of this year. Originally slated to be called The Falconer, the beautifully titled novel is, according to The Bookseller, “about the life of a troubled young poultry farmer who sacrifices everything to win the woman he loves,” and is narrated by the protagonist’s chi, his personal god in Igbo cosmology. The book has been hailed by its publishers as “an epic of Igbo civilisation.”
Obioma’s debut novel, The Fishermen, published in 2015 by Pushkin Press, was ushered in with a massive publicity campaign and became one of Africa’s most awarded debuts. A winner of the 2015 FT/Oppenheimer Emerging Voices Award for Fiction, the 2016 Los Angeles TimesBook Prize’s Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work (Debut Author), the novel was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, the 2015 Guardian First Book Award and the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. It further made the longlists for the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature and the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize, while appearing on many Best Book of the Year lists, including those by the New York Times Book Review, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and NPR. This year, the British theatre company New Perspectives adapted it for the stage.
Going by this first review in Publishers Weekly—and a very good one it is—An Orchestra of Minorities could be set for strong acclaim as well.
Set in Umuahia, Nigeria, Man Booker finalist Obioma’s unforgettable second novel (after The Fishermen) follows the saga of Chinonso, a young and doomed poultry farmer. The story is narrated by Chinonso’s chi, the guardian spirit that bridges humans and the divine in Igbo cosmology; this narrator functions as both advocate and Greek chorus in the tragedy that unfolds.
Obioma’s novel is electrifying, a meticulously crafted character drama told with emotional intensity. His invention, combining Igbo folklore and Greek tragedy in the context of modern Nigeria, makes for a rich, enchanting experience.
Going by this, An Orchestra of Minorities could be set for strong acclaim as well.
Back in August, Publishers Weekly profiled Obioma. He talked about the novel’s inspiration and premise.
The inspiration for Orchestra began with the fortunes of one of Obioma’s fellow Nigerians, Jay, whom he met in Cyprus at university. Northern Cyprus is a complicated place, a partially recognized state under the control of Turkey, but it’s generous with its student visas. “Many Nigerians sell everything to get there, thinking they are going to Europe,” Obioma says. “There is a system of corruption with agents, middlemen, known in Nigeria as ‘who you sabi [who you know].’ They promise everything but often do not deliver.” Jay had been living in Germany but was deported and sacrificed all he had left to get to Cyprus, hoping to “pick up his life again.” But he was soon in despair and, not long after, fell from a roof and died.
Obioma says his goal in writing the book was to “look at the African belief system in a world of fiction.” The chi in Orchestra tells the story of his host, Chinonso, a poultry farmer who, when he sees a woman named Ndali who is about to jump from a bridge, throws his prize chickens off the bridge to emphasize what a terrible thing she is considering. She doesn’t jump and the two fall in love, but there are many obstacles that Chinonso must overcome to win Ndali. He has the desperation of Jay and is willing to do anything to succeed. And, like Jay, he makes his way to Cyprus.
Read the full profile HERE.
Congratulations to Chigozie Obioma.