The Fishermen ~ Chigozie Obioma: A Review
I am just coming up for air after reading Chigozie Obioma’s compelling and brilliant oeuvre: The Fishermen. It is a story that boldly highlights the tenacity of a solid family bond in the face of the most unimaginable set of tragic circumstances. Throughout the story we see events unfold that have the power to disintegrate even the most solid familial bonds but with each tragic episode that the Agwu family – who serve as the protagonists of this tale- are forced to endure, they rise up from the ashes with tireless resolve and determination, hardly dwelling on the cards that life has unfairly dealt them but moving on, stronger than ever.
It is interesting that the catalyst of the family’s unusual turbulence is the diabolical prediction of a neighborhood madman. I often wondered as I read the story if the family’s tragic destiny was inevitable and things would still have gone the way that they did had the older boys of the family not encountered the madman when they did. In any case, once Abulu, the madman’s prediction is unleashed on the brothers, the change in the family is immediate.
|Chigozie Obioma reads from ‘The Fishermen’ at Busboys & Poets, Washington, DC|
Make no mistake, the Fishermen is a dark tale: adversity and sadness show up in unexpected and often shocking ways but Mr. Obioma is such a gifted storyteller and into this dark tale he weaves in such descriptive often bewitching imagery to create a masterful narrative:
” The sun was so fierce in the sky, forcing trees to create dark awnings under their canopies. At one side of the road, a woman was frying fish in a pan on a hearth under a wooden shack. The billows of smoke rose steadily from both sides of the hearth, pooling towards us. We crossed to the other side between a parked truck and the balcony of a house whose interior I glimpsed briefly: two men seated on a brown couch, gesticulating while a roving standing fan slowly turned its head. A goat and her kids were squirrelled under a table in front of the balcony, surrounded by black pods of their own waste“
In that one paragraph (as in many throughout the novel), Mr. Obioma succeeds in transporting the reader to a typical West African countryside effacing the tragic episodes that pervade the story with such beautiful prose.
In reading The Fishermen, I found the most vivid and spellbinding depiction of a madman that I have ever come across in all my years of extensive reading. Madmen are often dismissed as a menace in West African communities and in creating Abulu, Mr. Obioma does an excellent job of putting a human face on them. In spite of the role that Abulu plays in the family’s destiny, in spite of some of his loathsome actions, I actually began to feel a great deal of empathy for him to the point that I wished he could somehow reverse the tragedy that has struck the family
“He appeared like a mighty man of old when men shredded everything they grasped with bare hands. His face was fecund with a beard that stretched from the side of his face down to his jaw. His moustache stood over his mouth as though it had been applied there by fine brush strokes of charcoal paint. His hair was dirty, long and tangled. […] The matrixes of his fingernails were long and taut, and in the bed beneath each plate were masses of grime and grit“
The transformation of the family throughout the book is stunning. The most visible being that of the patriarch of the family. We meet him as the quintessential Nigerian paterfamilias who has the power to evoke simultaneous sentiments of fear, love and respect from his children. His commanding presence begins to crumble in the face of events that he not only has no control over but whose impact succeed in changing the master plan that he has outlined for his children
“It dawned on me for the first time that Father, our Father, the strong man could not help me, he’d become a tamed eagle with broken claws and a crooked beak“
An extremely enjoyable read, The Fishermen evoked feelings of nostalgia in me as through the pages I could smell, hear and savor the essence of West Africa where I grew up. The spirit of family which the story transmits applies to anyone in any part of the world, irrespective of their cultural background.