10 November 2017

Review #679: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“I have now come to know that what one believes often becomes permanent, and what become permanent can be indestructible.”

----Chigozie Obioma

Chigozie Obioma, an ward winning Nigerian writer, has penned a captivating and a spellbinding tale called, The Fishermen that revolves around four brothers living in a small town in Nigeria, who in the absence of their strict father, decide one day to go for fishing in the river that is supposed-to-be-cursed, later to sell their catch for good money, but when their mother comes to know about it, they could not avoid their father's harsh beatings and later the older brothers gets cursed by a local madman that he would be killed by one of his fishermen brothers, leading to a chain of disastrous events in the lives of the four brothers.


In a Nigerian town in the mid 1990's, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.

Told from the point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, The Fishermen is the story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of its characters and its readers.

Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family's destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions: economic, political, and religious; and with the epic beauty of its own culture.

With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation's masterful storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose.

Akure is the small town where the four brothers, Ikenna, Boja, Obembe, and Benjamin, live with their parents and three other younger siblings. And Omi-Ala is the river, where these four brothers decide to go for fishing along with their friends and later sell their catch to earn money, in the absence of their strict father, and away from the prying eyes and ears of their conservative mother. Sadly their adventure with fishing comes to an abrupt end, when a nosy neighbor informs the mother of their four brother's fishing expedition at the cursed river of the town, that have carried death and blood since the Christian settlers have arrived in the town, as before that, people of Akure used to worship the river that brought them fortune and good health. After their father's awareness about the fishing expedition, the four brothers get brutal corporal punishment by their father. Right after the beating, the elder brother gets cursed by a local madman that he would be killed in the hands of his brother, thereby weakening the strong bond of brotherhood between the four boys. Who gradually walk on a downhill road to bad luck and bad fortune, followed by death, murder, grief and loss.

The author is a genius who crafted a compelling tale featuring the Igbo people, an ethnic tribal group native to Nigeria, and their folk lore, culture, beliefs, superstitions and lifestyle in a very vivid manner, that brings them alive right before the eyes of
the readers. Although the author has touched the political unrest drama in the back drop of the story line subtly, yet the readers can feel the political issues, fights, clashes thoroughly. The boy's faith and belief is shaken when the madman foretells a prophecy about the elder brother, whom the younger three brothers worship and depend like anything. Their modern mindset took a backseat when it came to superstitions and prophecies. Followed by a heart wrenching journey to downhill where their fate becomes their worst enemy.

The author's writing style is superb, brilliant, evocative and deeply intense, that will not only intrigue the readers but will also move them by their hearts and souls. The narrative is engaging and enchanting enough to arrest the readers into the story's charm till the very end. Even though it is tragic and heart breaking story, yet somehow it will make the readers feel empowered and enlightened towards a lesser known ethnic tribe of people in Africa. The prose is lyrical and extremely exquisite enough to make the readers fall for the story with all their heart.

The back drop of Akure, a Nigerian town, is strikingly portrayed into the story line. From the dusty roads to the small houses to the massive cursed river to the cheerful football fields to the controversial church to the rustic landscape, every thing is arrested vividly by the author into this book, thus bringing it visually imaginative for the readers. Even I felt myself getting teleportated to Akure while reading about the boys' adventure both with fishing as well as with revenge. Even the then culture and the lifestyle of the people, both native and colonialists are aptly capture into the story line.

The characters are extremely well developed, thoroughly realistic and honest to their very core. The main character is the narrator of the book, who happens to be the youngest brother, a mere age of 9 years and the way he looks up to his elders brothers is really touching. His young voice is not only filled with metaphors and here-and-there light humor, but is also filled with subtle philosophy of life, that only made me fall for his character deeply. All the four brothers, sharing the same blood, yet have different personality and beliefs and that made them go against one another's ideas, ultimately leading them to downfall. The rest of the characters of the brothers as well as of the parents and of the madman is portrayed with depth and backstory that is enough to leave a mark in the minds of the readers long after the story has ended.

In a nutshell, this is a mesmerizing yet a poignant African tribal tale deep with family love, siblings rivalry and superstitions besides political turnout and fallout of those times.

Verdict: A must read book, strongly recommended!

Courtesy: Thanks to my younger brother for the lovely gift that contained this book.

Author Info:
Chigozie Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria. He was an OMI fellow at Ledig House, New York, and has won Hopwood Awards for fiction and poetry. His fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly review and Transition. He has lived in Nigeria, Cyprus, and Turkey and currently lives in the United States where he is a Helen Zell Fellow in creative writing at the University of Michigan.
Visit him here

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