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 Cain and Abel-esque story of the 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 omnious, 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 even whose impact – both tragic and redemptive – will transcend the lives and imaginations of the book’s characters and its readers.
Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Published: 2015 | Publisher: ONE, Pushkin Press | Pages: 304
The Fishermen is a dark, haunting, mythical story about brotherhood, love and madness. Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben are four of six children of the Agwu family in Akure, Nigeria. Ikenna, who is 15 years old is the leader of the pack. Boja is the adventurous 14-year-old, Obembe is the book smart 11-year-old and Ben – who is the innocent narrator of this lyrical tale, is 9 years old. Once their father is assigned to work at a new location of the Central Bank of Nigeria, quite far away from his home, disorder slowly overtakes this family. I believe the absence of the boys’ father is the root of all the evil things that occur in this story. How crazy is it that the prophecy of the neighborhood madman Abulu, who the boys encounter on one of their forbidden fishing adventures to the Omi-Ala river, could be the catalyst for all the twists and turns that the Agwu family endures?
When you think things are getting better and the craziness of this story plateaus, something pops up! I feel like I know/knew Ikenna, Boja, Obembe and Ben – their love and brotherhood are so dear to me, I don’t know why! I felt helpless during many parts of this story. At certain parts I just had to close the book, sit still… and pray. I desperately wanted to help Ikenna. I wanted to whisper into his ear and reassure him that his brothers loved him so much and that nobody was out to kill him. I wanted to goad Boja to have more patience with Ikenna since he (Ikenna) was going through a dark, miserable phase in his life where his faith and confidence were shaken.
Chigozie Obioma wrote about these boys in such a tender way that evoked lots of emotions in me. Obioma actually wrote this novel as a tribute to his own brothers and he discusses this more in interviews with Michigan Quarterly Review and Bookanista. I believe Obioma does a great job at painting the picture of a typical Nigerian household in The Fishermen. He captures classic Nigerian idiosyncrasies through the characters, for example: the way the boys’ mother would shout ‘Chineke!’ (which is an Igbo word that means ‘God!’) whenever she was startled; or how she would vigorously tie her wrapper whenever she was frustrated with the boys; or how their chauvinistic father would shout ‘my friend!’ whenever he was irritated and demanded quick responses from the boys and their mother. If you’ve ever watched a Nollywood film, you would definitely appreciate these entertaining gestures!
The power of Obioma’s lyrical writing style is augmented by his metaphors, which are mostly rooted in animism. This may seem corny, but trust me – it certainly works in making the characters and different incidents in the story feel too real… and every word counts! References to Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, M.K.O Abiola – a popular Nigerian political figure, alongside other contemporary happenings (during 1997) made this all the more a satisfying and realistic read. I’m super proud of this author and I wish him nothing but more success! This has been the best book I’ve read all summer and maybe even this year.
Side note: After reading this book, I’ve had second thoughts about my desire to give birth to only boys – as if I even have a choice, am I God? haha. But I’ve come to the realization that raising boys (and children in general) is truly a challenge. Parental guidance is needed at all times!
The Fishermen needs more attention in the blogosphere! I’m still trying to digest some stuff from the book and I would love to discuss The Fishermen in detail with anyone who has already read it. I’m waiting for my Mom to finish reading the book so we can discuss the ending which slightly threw me off. I hope bookworms around the world catch on and rave about this book as much as they did Adichie’s Americanah. I expect The Fishermen to win some literary awards soon.
Chigozie Obioma definitely took fiction to another level with this book. Please, please pick this up if you get a chance!
Purchase The Fishermen on Amazon.
Darkowaa (@) is an American born Ghanaian, currently living where her heart feels most at home- Accra, Ghana. She doesn’t consider herself a writer or a bookworm… She prefers to call herself an African Book Addict! Books written by people of African descent / from the African diaspora excite her the most, and hopefully they’ll excite you too!
Review originally posted on AfricanBookAddict.com
Related country: Nigeria