Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

As I’m still struggling through A Little Life, I hadn’t planned to tackle any more of the Man Booker short list. But, as ever, I needed a book to fall into and The Fishermen seemed as though it would be ideal for that purpose.

And it was.

“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.”

The Fishermen was a compelling read that I consumed within hours. A story that is both important for its setting and one that transcends it. Narrated by Benjamin, second youngest of 5 brothers, it is a multilayered modern-day folk tale.

In the mid-90s four brothers, Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Benjamin begin fishing in the local river with their friends. (This is forbidden, as even the adults are banned from the area.) When one day they encounter Abulu the mad man, and he predicts one brother will kill another, the lives of the four boys live’s are propelled to a seemingly uncontrollably violent destination.

Ben reminded me of the biblical Benjamin, separated from the actions of his brothers by a naïve innocence. I wasn’t sure if this was intentional, as there is no Joseph to save him and though he is easily led. His love for his brothers overrides any other thought he has.

Obioma tackled the difficult task of creating a child narrator that neither annoys or appears beyond his age. Benjamin makes sense of his world by the way people act, rather than understanding the information that presents itself. His mother is a Falconer, his brother Ikenna a Sparrow, his brother Boja a Fungus. A style that gives it a twist to the way the story unravels and avoids frustration at a child that doesn’t fully understand what is happening.

With The Fishermen I have once again encountered a story on a fascinating culture I don’t know enough about to really get the intricacies of the story – and it’s made me want to know more. There are a wealth of themes in this book I could be aware of. The Western infiltrates in their lives, mixing with their Igbo and Nigerian selves to make very complex and occasionally contradictory personalities. They are Christian but fear the madman who can predict the future and sees the past. The two sons with English names are so different to their Igbo named brothers, is this significant too? Representation of the effect of Western invading Igbo culture?

All these questions combined with my enjoyment of the writing made The Fishermen one of the best books I have read this year.

Have you read The Fisherman? Can you direct me to more brilliant Nigerian writers? (Other than Achebe and Adichie.)

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17 Comments on "Review: The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma"

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Kya
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The book sounds so amazing and one I am going to read soon!

Naomi
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Nice review! This book appeals to me, and your review confirms it. Now, just to get to it…

Angie
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Sounds like a book I should be reading. Loved your review.

Mercurial Vicissitudes
Guest

I have heard a lot of good things about this book and I am definitely interested in reading it now, in fact I would like to pick up everything that got shortlisted this year.

On another note I want you to finish A Little Life because I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on it!

Charlie
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I can’t answer your question but it looks like some research is in order :) The biblical connotation sounds plausible, definitely, and an interesting one to think about if so.

Eme
Guest

More brilliant Nigerian writers: Chika Unigwe, Lola Shoneyin, Teju Cole, Helon Habila, Igoni Barrett, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Chibundu Onuzo, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and so on and so on.

Jenny @ Reading the End
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OH YES OKAY I can help with the awesome Nigerian authors thing! Will you accept Nigerian-British? Because Helen Oyeyemi is one of my all-time favorites. Her third book, White Is for Witching, is wonderfully strange and baffling and unresolved, and her fifth, Boy Snow Bird, is GORGEOUS most of the way through but with an ucky transphobic ending. :/ I think you could enjoy the book just the same (better!) if you cordoned off the last (icky) thirty-to-fifty pages.

Kristin B
Guest

This was my book club’s pick for this month! I’m glad to hear you really enjoyed it; now I’m more eagerly waiting for my library hold to come through. (Please be faster, library hold!!)

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