I actively began to seek books by Nigerian authors when my parents moved to the country almost a decade ago. My mother would send me cut-outs of the editorials that appeared in the Lagos dailies because she found their language and expression such a delight to read. And each Nigerian author (or author of Nigerian descent) I have read is such a discovery. From Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri and Buchi Emecheta to Chimamanda Adichie, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Okey Ndibe, a few things are common to all the authors I have read till now. One – the stories themselves – rich, multi-layered with great characters and two – the mellifluous language and the world they create with their words. The stories captivate, haunt and make me pause and reflect.
I was delighted to discover that Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen is one such book. Four young brothers, from the ages of nine to fifteen become fishermen at the forbidden local river in Akure when their authoritarian father moves to Yola. Their father had already decided on careers for them – Ikenna would be a pilot, Boja was to be a lawyer, Obembe the family’s medical doctor, and Ben, the narrator of the story was to be a professor. When the Father hears of their fishermen escapades, the boys are thrashed soundly. The father then tells them that with their western education, he wants his boys to be fishermen of another kind. “…fishermen who will be fishers of good dreams, who will not relent until they have caught the biggest catch.”
Yet, when the boys are waylaid by the local madman Abulu who prophesizes that the oldest Ikenna will be killed by one of them – the fishermen, things fall apart, and each boy carves out the destiny for himself he had never imagined. The Fishermen is a story of how the family disintegrates, and how it finds itself back together again.
In a recent interview author Victor LaValle mentions that most literary authors focus on “…the sentence level. A beautiful sentence may matter more than a memorable plot….And in fact a novel that’s only an accumulation of beautiful sentences risks becoming incoherent.” In Obioma’s book though, each sentence is beautiful, and connects to the plot and the narrative in a perfect way. When Ben and Obembe confront Abulu, Ben recounts , “I observed that he carried on his body a variety of odours, the most noticeable of which was a faecal smell that wafted at me like a drone of flies when I drew closer to him. This smell I thought, might have been a result of his going for long without cleaning his anus after excretion. He reeked of sweat accumulated inside the dense growth of hair around his pubic regions and armpits. He smelt of rotten food, and unhealed wounds and pus, and of bodily fluids and wastes. He was redolent of rusting metals, putrefying matter, old clothes, ditched underwear he sometimes wore.He smelt, too, of leaves, creepers, decaying mangoes by the Omi-Ala, the sand of the riverbank, and even of the water itself.”
Chigozie Obiama has been called Achebe’s heir, and The Fishermen has won many awards and been referred to as the African Kite Runner. Whether it is a sort of Kite Runner or not is for the reader to judge, but The Fishermen is so worth a read…refreshing, brutal, heartbreaking and heartwarming as well!