STAR RATING: ★★★★☆
BLURB: ‘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 Fishermenis the story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure.’’ (Goodreads.com)
Did I enjoy this book? I don’t know. I certainly slacked on reading it for the first couple of weeks (In retrospect, this was definitely due to my own laziness) but once I actually made myself sit down and read, it hits its stride and I finished it in what felt like minutes…It’s definitely worth your time. Although its enjoyability factor is cloaked under its harrowing nature, if you focus on the flowing words and proverbs and glowing characters, you’ll find that you love it.
This is a dark and haunting domestic tragedy. And if you have a big family, like I do, you will immediately relate to it. It focuses solely on the relationship between brothers, with Obioma illustrating the different nuanced personas and characters within the family with fable-like descriptions (e.g. Hope was a tadpole, mother was a falconer etc.) which also added to its Greek tragedy feel. It was like a classical tale retold in a Nigerian setting. The descriptions of the family just works, they are similar but different, I was able to visualise them all perfectly in my mind, and they all get their moment in the book.
This book is set in the same area as ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, which I loved, about 20 years later (in the 1990s), and does not take on a historical perspective as her book does, but you can see similarity, Obioma choosing to focus on the structure and workings of a small town community, but also hinting at contemporary and historical references (like Things Fall Apart). For his debut novel, this is a really accessible read, has earned its rightful place on the shortlist, and I think Obioma can join Adichie among the great current African writers.
Its story, whilst not on the lighthearted side, has a bittersweet undertone, in that through the great tragedies that befall this family, they emerge a stronger unit, and Obioma somehow manages to create a happy ending.