Updated on May 26, 2016
16. ‘The Fishermen’ by Chigozie Obioma
I first heard about The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma when it was nominated for last year’s Man Booker prize, but it took me quite a long time to get around to reading it. Unfortunately I got flu in the middle of it, which probably messed up my reading experience a bit, but I did still really enjoy it!
The Fishermen is about a family in Akure, Nigeria, part of the Igbo tribe. They live in a small house – mother, father and four brothers: Ikenna, the eldest at 14, Boja, 13, Obembe, 11 and Benjamin, 9. There are two more children – David, 3 and Nkem, 1 – but they are less involved in the events of the story. Through the centre of their town runs the river Omi-Ala, which has almost mythical significance and is avoided and reviled by the locals. One day the four brothers decide that they will go fishing in the Omi-Ala, but eventually their fishing trips start to turn sour, until an encounter with the local madman, Abulu, sets them all on an irreversible path to destruction.
The story is presented almost in the form of a fable. Most of the chapters are named after animals, and almost all the characters are compared to particular animals because our narrator, Benjamin, adores nature. Ikenna is a sparrow who becomes a python; mother is a falconer. The story is always presented through the eyes of Benjamin, the naturalist, so characters act like animals, and a change in personality is described as a ‘metamorphosis’, like that of a larva to a deathwatch beetle.
I thought the story was a bit slow to start, and the style of storytelling felt a little repetitive in places, but once Abulu’s dangerous prediction happened the story really got going. The central plot had similarities to the tale of Oedipus (a prophecy becomes self-fulfilling), and I thought Ikenna’s declining mental state was drawn with shocking precision. At times my heart raced along with the story, and there were one or two revelations that made me gasp out loud.
This is a fantastic tale about the chaotic spiralling out of control of four interwoven lives, and the slightly off-beat writing style made it even more compelling to read. I’d definitely recommend it!
“I will tell you that you could be a different kind of fishermen … fishermen of the mind. Go-getters. Children who will dip their hands into rivers, seas, oceans of life and become successful.”
Have you read this book? Did you think it should have won the Booker? I’d love to know your thoughts!
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.