Omi-Ala was a dreadful river. Long forsaken by the inhabitants of Akure town like a mother abandoned by her children.… It surrounded Akure like ans snaked through its length and breadth. Like many such rivers in Africa, Omi-Ala was once believed to be a god : people worshipped it.…)This changed when the colonists came from Europe [and] began to see it as an evil place.

It became the source of dark rumours. One such rumour was that people committed all sorts of fetish ritual on its banks…. Incident after incident accumulated over many years, tainting the history of the river and corrupting its name so much so that- in time- its mere mention of it triggered disdain.

Thus begins the story of four brothers, Ikenna, Boje, Obembe and Benjamin, told by the last. Like all storytellers, Benjamin sets the atmosphere, the tone, the characters and the plot. The listeners, more than the readers, have no other choice than to submit to his charming story.

Benjamin, the narrator’s alter ego and author, Obioma’s persona, narrates the dissollution of his family from the moment Ikenna, the elder brother, decides to fish in the forbidden river. Abulu, the fool of the village, happens to be in the vicinity and predicts that he will die by the hand of one of his brothers.

The narrative voice creates a surrealist story woven by childhood, temptation, adventure and madness. The dissolution of the family is inevitable and tragedy seems to form a snow-ball effect in their lives. In the 1990s Nigeria, in a context of political and social tension, the story of Benjamin’s family works both as a mirror and as an allegory of human life and struggle through History and personal fate.

The construction of the plot is inspired by African tales and fables : each chapter is woven around an image (the river, the spiders) which leads the listener (and the reader) to the grand finale. Obioma’s great first novel, much acclaimed on the international stage, reveals human madness, ill-doings and immense tolerance wrapped in a brilliant tale.

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

978-0957548862 | ONE | 2016

Review by Ioana Danaila

Ioana Danaila was born in Romania. She graduated from University Lyon 2 Lumière with a Masters in Postcolonial Literature and a First degree in French for Non-Francophone people.

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